Stavanger 11 – Help, or Hell is at Hand
  • Stavanger 11 – Help, or Hell is at Hand

    Over the last half-hour, the ships of the German 1st Scouting Group and the leading elements of the High Seas Fleet had been throwing all they had at one of the Royal Navy's isolated squadrons; exactly as had been hoped and planned for back in Kiel and Berlin. From on board his flagship Bayern, Admiral Scheer hoped that just a few more minutes' action would be enough to cripple a few of the British ships, leaving them to be overwhelmed by the rest of his fleet and by his destroyers' torpedoes. He'd had little radio contact with Admiral Hipper, but the commander of the battlecruisers had done well, drawing the British south, and was clearly still in action with them some miles to the East.
    For the past few minutes, sighting reports had been coming in from his scouts ahead, and soon became horrifying clear that the German fleet was heading straight towards the guns of a vastly superior enemy; almost the entire Royal Navy, deployed in a way that would come close to crossing their ‘T’.

    Aboard the ships of the British 1BCS, there was relief. The scouts of 3BCS had been sighted to the northwest, and they would be ahead of the Grand Fleet. Help had finally arrived.
    It was not a moment too soon for HMS Lion; by a miracle of engineering and endurance, she had maintained speed for the last hour, despite steadily worsening flooding in the rear of the ship. By 6.25, water was rising in the port engine room, and there was no choice but to abandon most of the machinery there. The ship was listing further to port, and valves had to be opened in several starboard wing compartments to try to counteract this. At 6.30, her Chief Engineer had no choice but to stop the port engine and abandon the engine room. The ship slowed to just 15 knots and even then, it was clear that more would need to be done to stop the flooding and prevent her from capsizing. On the bridge, a frustrated Admiral Beatty had no choice but to allow the ship to continue north, while he ordered the rest of his squadron to swing East and pursue the German battlecruisers.

    Directly to the west of Lion, the guns of the Grand Fleet were roaring out their first salvoes at the head of the German High Seas Fleet. However, the first indications that the Grand Fleet was ahead had not brought immediate relief to the hard-pressed ships of 5BS. During the few minutes it took for Admiral Scheer to realise his situation, the Germans kept the British superdreadnoughts under heavy fire. Barham’s B-turret was jammed as splinters severed below-deck lines and machinery. Hits on Malaya caused a significant increase in the flooding forward and burned out the port battery, which had been in action against German scouts. Uncased charges ignited along the length of the battery, spreading from gun to gun, but mercifully not down closed trunks to the magazines. Another pair of hits on Warspite made life more difficult for fire-fighters and control teams shoring up bulkheads, but neither caused critical damage.

    However difficult his position had been aft, Commander Farrington’s life had been saved by his Captain’s earlier order to leave B-turret. He since had returned to the bridge to deliver an updated damage report, only to be told by the Captain,
    ‘I don’t give a damn about the damage. Can we stay in line?’
    ‘No Sir’, he said, as a 15" shell from Bayern defeated the armour on the join between B-turret and barbette, exploding in the plate. The turret itself jumped off its mountings and had its roof blown clean overboard as fire exploded through the trunk and down to the working chamber. Incredibly there was one survivor from the turret, a loader who dived through the escape hatch just as the blaze reached him. The fire then threatened to break through into the magazine as flash doors buckled under the heat and pressure. Fortunately for the ship, she had been in action for so long that supplies of Cordite were only in the more distant areas of the magazine, so even when the fire broke through a vent plate, it found no charges to immediately ignite. In the few seconds it took before the heat and flames started to spread, water started to pour into the magazine. Above decks, a series of flashes of bright white flame roared out of the wrecked turret as charges in the hoist and working chamber ignited. The battleship's troubles were not yet over, as two shells from Kaiserin ripped open sections of her bow, and although in the short term this flooding served to counteract the flooding aft, it was a lot more water in the ship. The added weight slowed her down even more, and by 6.26, her log was reading just 19 knots. The gap between her and Warspite ahead was visibly opening.

    Nevertheless, the Germans didn’t have it all their own way. Some of the British ships were still fighting well. In these last few minutes of the run north, Barham hit Grosser Kurfurst three times, one shell splitting hull seams near D-turret, before another hit the edge of the turret itself, jarring the training gear and wrecking the sights. The last went through the roof of A-turret, destroying it completely and killing everyone in the turret and trunk. The magazine was flooded as a precaution a minute or so later. Two shells exploded on Markgraf's belt, no doubt loosening a few sailor's fillings and ship's rivets but doing little real damage.

    By 6.25, the two fleets were clearly in view of each other, and the leading ships of the High Seas Fleet were suffering a taste of their own medicine.
    Stavanger 12 – The Grand Fleet
  • Stavanger 12 – The Grand Fleet

    Before 5.30, the Grand Fleet had been in cruising formation, with six lines of ships roughly abreast of each other. To allow them to fight effectively, they needed to deploy into one line, or something close to it, to allow all guns to bear towards the enemy.

    Jellicoe could deploy the fleet to port or starboard. Going to starboard would mean heading south, which would put him on a reciprocal course with the enemy ships that were pursuing Beatty to the west of his battlecruisers. That might open the possibility of a broadside action, but at very high relative speeds, as the ships would be heading on opposing courses. However, it would bring the enemy to battle more quickly, as the fleets would head directly towards each other, rather than letting the Germans come to him, as would happen if he deployed to port.
    On the other hand, deploying to starboard might cause him to miss the German Fleet altogether if he did it too soon and his line formed too far to the West. It would also put the older ships of the 1st Battle Squadron in the lead, whereas deploying to starboard would put the super-dreadnoughts of 2nd Battle Squadron at the front.
    He had just minutes to make his decision, and he decided to go to port; not just for those reasons, but because Beatty was to the East, and this would put him in a position to support the battlecruisers directly. If he went to starboard, he might or might not engage the German Fleet in its entirety, but he would certainly be leaving Beatty unsupported for an indefinite period. Sinking Germans would be a good thing; but losing all or part of the Battlecruiser Fleet was not.
    Admiral Jellicoe knew he didn't have to win today, or indeed ever. He did have to avoid a defeat.

    By 6.25, the two fleets had converged, and aboard the Bayern, Admiral Scheer had a similar choice to make, and he didn’t even have the few minutes that Jellicoe took to come to his decision. His ships were sailing directly into the guns of the Grand Fleet, and he needed to turn about, away from danger; but which way?
    To turn to port would gain sea room, but it would be a turn towards the bulk of the Grand Fleet which stretched across the horizon ahead and to the West. Turning to starboard would mean that only the leading elements of the enemy's fleet would have a clear shot at his ships, but it also meant turning toward the rear of Beatty's line. However much damage he had done to them, they were still fighting and a close-range action might risk encounters with their accompanying destroyers.
    With barely a minute to make up his mind, Scheer chose to turn to starboard; perhaps he could do further damage to the British battlecruisers and 5BS as he sailed away, and it certainly reduced the risk of fire from the Grand Fleet. At 6.28, he gave orders to hoist signals for a ‘Gefechtskehrtwendung’ (battle about turn, or ‘turn together’) to starboard, and for his torpedo boat flotillas to attack ahead and screen him to starboard. Even as he spoke the words of command, huge columns of water began to explode out of the sea ahead and to port.

    The leading ships of the Grand Fleet opened fire with their 13.5" guns at a range of 20,500 yards. In the next five minutes, over 800 shells were fired by the twelve leading British battleships from 2nd and 4th Battle Squadrons. The position of the leading German ships was not changing as rapidly as it might, as they were all swinging through 16 points together. However, even with the sea full of battleships, there was still a lot more sea than battleship, and so, despite the relatively static targets presented by the Germans during their turn, the vast majority of these shells missed. Early shots fell short, but as the Germans appeared broadside-on during their turns, the British seemed to find the range. Grosser Kurfurst lost her C-turret as a shell plunged into the barbette. This time, there was no major fire, but the machinery was wrecked by splinters that made it through the armour. Markgraf was hit on the belt to no effect, but another hit wrecked the after funnel and re-kindled a fire in the already-damaged secondary battery. A hit on Kronprinz's chain locker forward sent links and splinters through several thin bulkheads, but damage was not to vital areas.

    Meanwhile, Scheer had ordered his torpedo boats forward at the enemy to try to drive them north, or at least ensure they did not turn to pursue. In this they were successful as Jellicoe dared not risk turning south into what he assumed was a massed torpedo attack. He ordered his own destroyers south to engage the German torpedo boats, and a fierce fight soon developed in between the fleets. Several British destroyers suffered at the hands of the advancing torpedo boats, but it was at a terrible cost to the Germans as the main and secondary guns of many of the Grand Fleet’s battleships were brought to bear on them. G10, G8, V6 and V3 were all reduced to sinking wrecks in minutes, while a follow-on by VII Flotilla cost the Germans S16 and S20. Most of the rest hauled away with at least some splinter damage, and G9 would later be abandoned as the water level rose in her engine room. The torpedo attacks achieved no direct results, as the boats were forced to fire at long range, however it was not until 6.48 that the Grand Fleet began to turn south, and even then, it was only by two points.

    German gunnery during this period was confused as their ships headed first directly for the enemy, then turned almost stern-on. However, the armoured cruisers screening to the south of the Grand Fleet ran into the German line at a less acute angle. Duke of Edinburgh and Minotaur engaged the German screening destroyers, before coming under heavy fire from the battleships of I Geschwader, which were still pursuing the leading ships. Within minutes, the Minotaur was ablaze from stem to stern, and although she was seen turning away to the northwest, she exploded just after 6.40 leaving a huge column of grey-black smoke. Just three survivors were picked up by the destroyer Mystic. Duke of Edinburgh was probably saved by Admiral Souchon’s decision that his squadron should execute Scheer’s Gefechtskehrtwendung immediately, rather than allowing his slower ships to close with the rest of the fleet ahead.

    As Scheer’s ships turned, Fifth Battle Squadron continued to engage the German fleet. Despite the murk of smoke and the increasing haze of the early evening, this seemed to be the most desperate time so far in the battle. The HSF’s turn had put them at closer range, although with both on opposite courses it would not last long. However, as the Germans began their turn, they closed fast on the ships of 5BS, it seemed perhaps to try to finish them off. Messages from Gunnery Officers in the directors went to turret captains, who exhorted their crews to even greater efforts. Visibility was poor, but from as little as 12,000 yards, Malaya (the only ship in 5BS with all her guns still operational) made her presence felt, scoring four hits in quick succession on Markgraf. The roof of E-turret was blown off by a direct hit, while two shells aft turned the entire stern into an inferno on main and upper decks. Despite being badly damaged herself, Warspite showed she still had teeth when two of her shells went into Konig. One added to the fires forward, killing most of the members of a fire-fighting team in the process, while another went through the battleships' upper armour belt, breaking up as it did and punching splinters through the fore funnel trunking. The smoke of her own furnaces started to flood through the main and upper decks and was added to by fires forward. The upper deck battery and several main deck machinery rooms soon became uninhabitable due to smoke and heat. With only four of her guns still operational and badly affected by smoke, Royal Oak fired only a few shots, none of which found their targets.
    As they started to swing around to take a station well ahead of the Grand Fleet, the British battlecruisers headed for clearer air. They had worked their way ahead of Hipper’s Scouting Group and were effectively out of range, but the change of course was not immediately mirrored by Hipper (he did not spot the British ships in the haze), and this led to the two squadrons closing once more. Shortly after 6.30, the two sides re-engaged at about 15,500 yards.

    Sturdee’s 3BCS, Invincible and New Zealand, had closed on 1BCS and were able to take station astern of the Indefatigable, having steamed hard ahead of the Grand Fleet since being detached by Jellicoe earlier in the afternoon. They had sighted the High Seas Fleet as they steamed East and signalled Jellicoe, providing him with the first direct sighting of the enemy by one of his squadrons. A few shots were exchanged at extreme range, but with the other battlecruisers ahead they pressed on hard.
    By this time, Beatty's flagship HMS Lion had fallen out to port and was limping north at 15 knots, leaving his other battlecruisers to pass her to the East. The Admiral had ordered a destroyer to pick him up and transfer his flag to one of the other ships, but as the rest of the squadron opened fire on Hipper, he had yet to leave the Lion.

    On Lutzow’s flag bridge, all Admiral Hipper could see was yet another setback. Earlier in the afternoon, he had despatched one of the British ships and was gaining the upper hand with the others when 5BS showed up to batter his battlecruisers. Since then, 5BS had been equally battered by the guns of the High Seas Fleet, but his own squadron was now depleted, and the British had come up with another two fresh ships to add to his woes.
    His First Scouting Group was the furthest East of all the major units, and with Lutzow’s wireless damaged, he had yet to learn of the presence of the Grand Fleet. As far as he could see, most of the British battlecruisers had now outrun the High Seas Fleet and were closing in on him for the kill.
    Six British ships were now engaging the four remaining German vessels. Lutzow was still fighting hard, but he could see Seydlitz firing only intermittently with her wing guns, while some way astern in his increasingly ragged line, Goeben was clearly listing to port. All he could do was to try to draw them further East, to allow the High Seas Fleet to position itself between them and their home.

    Now in the van of the British Battle Cruiser Fleet, HMS Panther's crew soon found the range, despite having only four operational guns. They scored a hit on Lutzow's aft superstructure, sending splinters down vents and causing minor damage in the engine room. However, as the Germans were barely making 20 knots, it made little immediate difference. Princess Royal, by far the least damaged of the large British ships, scored just one hit on Seydlitz which knocked out two of the forward port battery guns. Repulse had only five working guns, but still managed hit Goeben twice over the next few minutes. One shell broke up on the face of C-turret, but still managed to jam the training gear, while the other exploded in the belt, causing splinter damaged abeam D-turret. Minor flooding was caused by one of Indefatigable's hits on Von der Tann, while the other rearranged debris forward and re-kindled a few fires, although by that stage there was little left to burn on the upper decks near the bow. New Zealand added her fire to that of her sister ship, but to no immediate effect.
    The German response was weak; although Seydlitz came close to ending Princess Royal's luck when an 11" shell punched out a section of her 6" upper belt, sending splinters into the thin 3" armour of the barbette on the main deck. As it was, the turret remained in action and the fire was localised to an officers' mess. A similar hit on Repulse caused a somewhat nastier fire, as her damage control teams were busier than on Princess Royal. Indefatigable suffered a minor leak amidships, as her belt effectively defeated one of Von der Tann's shells.

    To the west, the van of the High Seas Fleet had now become the rear, but the ‘Konigs’ and the Bayern were still under heavy fire.
    Stavanger 13 – The Dawn of the Space Age
  • Stavanger 13 – The Dawn of the Space Age

    Although the torpedo threat had prevented them from following the enemy, the leading ships of the Grand Fleet were still firing at the retreating Germans, and at just over 21,000 yards, both Centurion and Ajax were credited with hits on the Markgraf. Two shells had demolished her rear fire control position and wrecked her aft upper-works and battery, further fuelling fires that were already raging below.

    Sub-Lieutenant Sims, the Rate Officer of the battleship Centurion, sat behind inches of steel deep inside the ship’s armoured conning tower. Above him, the armoured director and a 9-foot rangefinder were pointing towards the turning German line. Sitting alongside, the ship’s Gunnery Officer was in command of him and the three-hundred-odd other men who made the dumb steel of Centurion’s 13.5” guns into a deadly war machine.
    Lt. Sims could see the target that ‘Guns’ had designated through one eyepiece of the Argo stabilised sight, a gyroscopically-controlled mounting that cancelled out most of the motion of the ship, leaving him with a view of the grey-smoke-covered horizon dotted with bursts of shellfire and the blotchy outlines of the enemy fleet. Sims had no control over the guns, or what they fired at, his instrument was there to measure inclination; the degree to which the enemy was heading towards or away from them. He knew they were firing at a ‘Konig’ class ship, as he’d seen her outline as she turned. Now, the enemy was heading almost directly away from them, and it was his job to guess how fast.
    He thought it was about 21 knots; after all, that was the known speed of the enemy’s fleet, and they were clearly turning and running as hard as they could from the might of the Royal Navy. If he weren’t so busy, he might have felt a flash of patriotic pride, but his concentration was total, and such nonsense was far from his mind.
    The enemy wasn’t heading directly away from him, there was a slight angle there. He set the lines on his sight and the mechanical calculator told him the enemy’s inclination to his line of sight. He then had to allow for the Centurion’s own course, displayed on the compass-face dial of the gyro repeater next to him. He estimated the enemy were steering about one-six-ohh degrees. He looked down at the clock-like face of the Dumaresq calculator below him. Centurion’s course and speed had already been set by a rating behind him, and now he set the enemy’s likely course and speed. He twiddled the knobs to 21 knots, on 160 degrees, and the pointer on the calculator moved as he did, showing that the enemy was moving away, down the line-of-sight at 20 knots, and to starboard at 18 knots.

    Through his headset, he spoke to a midshipman in the transmitting station, far below him in the armoured heart of the ship.
    ‘Range rate 20’
    ‘That looks a little high sir’, said the snotty.
    Sims glanced at the inclinometer again. The enemy’s course looked right to him.
    ‘Guns, are you estimating enemy speed as 21 knots?’, he asked.
    The Gunnery Officer ignored him for a moment while a rating took a reading from the scope he was looking through.
    ‘No, they’ve just turned about, I’d say 19. Set for that’
    ‘Aye Sir, 19 knots’.
    He turned the knurled knob on his Dumaresq again.
    ‘Range rate 18’, he said to the Transmitting station.
    ‘Plot is just reforming Sir, but that agrees with our readings’, replied the young man below, who was looking at the continuous output of a far more sophisticated version of Sims’ calculator. The Dreyer Fire-Control Table automatically allowed for the ship’s speed and course, and the output of a much larger, powered Dumaresq was plotted on a moving sheet. Another automatic system plotted readings from the turret and the main rangefinders onto the same sheet, so the Midshipman who Sims spoke to could see how his estimates of the range rate corresponded with changes in the real, live range measurements.

    A buzzer sounded in the director, and Sims watched as the splashes of their last salvo blasted up out of the water, close to their target.
    ‘Range up 400’, barked the Gunnery Officer into his microphone.
    Down below, the range operator reset the Dreyer table, moving the range plot up by 400 yards. The line on the plot jumped as the target was suddenly ‘moved’ 400 yards further away, but it then continued to trace smoothly as the machine’s estimate of range rate continually updated its position.
    The Gunnery Officer was satisfied with what he heard from the plot down below, and with the correction he’d just made. In the transmitting station, another pair of Midshipmen fed the range and the two rates into another calculating machine, which turned them into the only two numbers that mattered; the elevation and the training angles for the guns. The number of men and machines involved then greatly expanded, as electric stepper motors transmitted the angles to dials in each of the five turrets.

    In Q-turret, Petty Officer Kilbrean saw the inner pointer of the Vickers Mk.II director dial move. In fact it electrically ratcheted itself up a few notches, but the movements were so small that it looked like a continuous motion. In response, he turned the brass wheel in front of him, and the hydraulics below him effortlessly moved the eighty-ton gun next to him up by a fraction of a degree. Now his outer pointer matched the inner one
    On the other side of the gun, the trainer must have turned his wheel too, as Kilbrean felt the turret turn slightly to the right. Behind him, the gun loading cage came up and there was the usual series of clangs as the flash doors banged open, then crashed back into place, supposedly keeping the flammable material in the turret isolated from the working chamber below. A 1,400-pound shell and nearly three-hundredweight of Cordite were pushed into the chamber, with a mechanical clatter as the rammer advanced and retreated. Kilbrean was busy keeping an eye on his pointers, and half-an-eye on the sight in front of him that would serve as a backup if the director controls failed. He was therefore only dimly aware of the shout ‘Salvoes’, and the voice of the gun’s No.1 confirming that the loading cycle was complete.

    In the main director, indicator lights flicked onto ‘Ready’, and the Gunnery Officer had his finger poised over the trigger. A moment later, he squeezed it, but there was no instant roar of gunfire. Centurion had a brand-new type of control system; unlike a traditional director, or a primitive infantry rifle, the guns were not connected directly to the trigger. A machine would choose exactly when to fire them, at the moment when a gyro told it that the ship was on an even keel.
    In the turret, Kilbrean heard the ‘Ding … Ding’ of the firing gong, and barely a second after that, the huge steel tube of the gun beside him roared and leapt back five feet, shaking the entire turret with the recoil.

    The shell from the starboard gun of Centurion’s Q-turret punched through the air at a speed no aircraft would reach for another forty years. However it wasn’t an aircraft, and forty seconds later, it had slowed while the inexorable force of gravity had pulled it down towards the sea. It was only yards above the surface when it passed through a wall of flame so quickly that its thick steel casing wouldn’t have noticed any heat. The ¾” steel plate that it punched through a fraction of a second later might as well have been made of paper. In under a hundredth of a second, the shell moved ten feet further before it struck something more solid. The L-shaped steel girder had started its life in a foundry on the Ruhr, and now made up part of the frame of the ship. The metal was tough enough to fracture the brazing around the cap of the shell and send it spinning off to the right, but the rest of the body of the shell smashed through the thick frame and carried on, largely unperturbed, apart from a small deflection to the right. However, the impact had been enough to trigger a tiny spark at its base.
    It had travelled barely another six feet when forty pounds of Lyddite exploded in its heart.

    Microseconds later, the shell no longer existed, but bits of it were newly energised and were able to smash their way through thin bulkheads. One of those pieces was sharp and solid enough to punch a hole in a 1” steel plate. The plate slowed it considerably, but it then encountered a soft, dough-like material. The fragment of shell had been bashed and blasted so much that it was red-hot, and the doughy substance deep in the magazine of SMS Markgraf’s D-turret responded to the heat exactly as it had been designed to do.

    Barely a second after that, white flame and grey smoke was shooting out of the area where E-turret had once been, and observers on Grosser Kurfurst saw the roof of D-turret blown off into the sea. Markgraf began to turn out of line to port, her list to starboard rapidly increasing. Kurfurst’s Captain ordered a turn to starboard to avoid the rapidly slowing ship, and as they drew level, he could see that Markgraf's quarterdeck was awash, as clouds of smoke and steam billowed from her wrecked after superstructure. She was clearly finished, and men could be seen jumping into the sea from her rapidly tilting decks. Admiral Behncke and the entire command crew fell silent as they saw their sister-ship roll over with a roar of displaced ocean and escaping steam. Her bow reared into the air as she turned turtle, before collapsing back into the sea.

    Just four minutes after the hit, the great battleship had gone.
    Order of Battle at 6.45pm
  • An outline Order of Battle, as at 6.45, after Scheer's turn south.

    Royal Navy

    Battle Cruiser Fleet

    Queen Mary - SUNK
    Panther – B & Q-turrets out of action, Minor engine room damage. Flooding forward.
    Princess Royal – Minor flooding abeam X-turret.
    Repulse – Flooded abeam B-turret. Q-turret destroyed, heavy fire aft. Boiler Room 4 out of action.
    Indefatigable – Aft 4” battery burned out. Minor flooding amidships.
    Invincible - Undamaged
    New Zealand – It’s alright, he’s wearing it.

    5BS –
    Barham – B-turret out, some flooding fwd & aft. 6” stbd battery out.
    Malaya – Significant flooding forward. 6” Port battery fire.
    Valiant – Minor flooding forward. 6” Starboard battery heavily damaged. B-turret jammed.

    1LCS – Galatea, Phaeton, Cordelia – splinter damage.

    2LCS – Southampton, Birmingham, Nottingham, Dublin
    3LCS – Falmouth, Yarmouth, Birkenhead, Gloucester

    Units of 1st, 9th, 10th Destroyer Flotillas engaged with Hipper's torpedo boats.

    Detached ships:
    Lion – crippled, heading north. Adm Beatty transferring to destroyer HMS Defender.
    Warspite – Significant flooding forward and aft. Fires forward and to starboard. A-turret jammed. Heading north
    Royal Oak - Significant flooding forward and aft. B-turret destroyed. Y-magazine flooded. On fire aft. Heading north
    Inconstant – Forwards guns destroyed, flooding forward. Remained with 1LCS until ordered to accompany Warspite and Royal Oak with Onslow, Obdurate, Petard.
    Engadine – ordered to return to base when enemy sighted mid-afternoon.

    Grand Fleet

    All GF battleships are currently undamaged.

    1CS - Cochrane, Warrior
    Duke of Edinburgh – Heavy damage to port main and secondary guns. On fire aft.

    2CS – Shannon, Defence, Black Prince
    Minotaur - SUNK

    Units of 1 & 2CS are retreating north, some engaging HSF’s torpedo boats.

    4LCS – Comus, Caroline, Royalist, Chatham

    Units of 4th, 11th, 12th Destroyer Flotillas engaging Scheer’s torpedo boats.
    Mary Rose, Marvel hit by German light guns, boiler room damage/minor flooding.

    Campania – safely in the rear.

    Imperial German Navy

    Scouting Force

    Lutzow – Port 5.9” battery burned out. Minor flooding aft.
    Derfflinger – crippled, heading East at 12 knots. 3 turrets still operational.
    Seydlitz – Only has two wing turrets operational. Flooding aft. Forward 5.9” battery wrecked.
    Moltke – crippled, heading south at 10 knots, detached after ‘dash to the South’. Only 2 guns operational.
    Goeben – C & E-turrets out of action. Bunkers flooded amidships. Bridge destroyed, conning from aft.
    Von der Tann – Flooding forward and aft. Much of Foc’sle deck destroyed. 3 boilers damaged. D-turret out.

    Frankfurt, Elbing, Wiesbaden
    Pillau – Heavily damaged in opening phase. One gun still in action. Heading East at 8 knots into Skaggerak.

    2nd, 6th Torpedo Boat Flotillas engaging British BCF.
    S50 - damaged by splinters.
    G101 - SUNK – wrecked during opening phase.

    9th Torpedo Boat Flotilla with Hipper’s line.

    High Seas Fleet

    Bayern – Flooding aft, one gun disabled in C-turret, 5.9” battery wrecked forward.
    Grosser Kurfurst – A & C-turrets destroyed, D damaged. Fires amidships and in battery.
    Markgraf (SUNK)
    Kronprinz – Bridge wrecked.
    Konig – A & D-turrets out. Major fire forward. Bridge destroyed. 5.9” battery abandoned. Flooding in port bunkers.

    Kaiser, Kaiserin, Friedrich der Grosse, Konig Albert – minor splinter damage only

    Other German dreadnoughts are undamaged.
    Pre-dreadnoughts have not engaged, are following Scheer’s orders to head south.

    IV SG – Stettin, Munchen, Fraunlob, Hamburg
    Stuttgart – Damaged, heading East.

    5th, 7th Torpedo Boat Flotillas have engaged Grand Fleet scouts and destroyers.
    G10, V6 and V3 - SUNK
    G8 flooded forward, heading south.
    G9 crippled, limping south.
    S16 and S20 stationary south of GF line.
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    Stavanger 14 - Desperate to Escape
  • Stavanger 14 – Desperate to Escape

    As Markgraf disappeared beneath the waves, the battered Royal Oak and Warspite turned to weave their way through the hard-steaming line of 2nd Battle Squadron. As the rest of 5BS turned to follow the battlecruisers, Admiral Evan-Thomas had signalled them to detach and head north, seeking shelter behind the Grand Fleet. Neither ship could maintain high speeds, and they could do little to attack the enemy as turrets were out of action, fire-control equipment was disabled, and crews were pressed into fighting fires and shoring up bulkheads.

    For the sailors of Admiral Jerram's leading ships, it could have been an unnerving sight if it were not for the circumstances. In just a few minutes' firing, they had destroyed an enemy battleship and beaten off a torpedo boat attack, and so rather than look in horror at what might lie in their future, the crews cheered as the battered ships limped through the line.
    If two of the Royal Navy’s most powerful warships were so heavily damaged, there had clearly been an intense battle in which many of the enemy’s ships must have already been sunk by these mighty ships. To think otherwise was impossible.
    As men poked their heads out of turrets, peered through their sights or the gaps in their gunshields, there were cheers and choruses of ‘God save the King’, and ‘Rule Britannia’ shouted out over the waves.
    ‘Did you leave any for us?’, shouted a Leading Seaman on board Conqueror.
    Like all the rest, his words were lost to the wind, but it gave his mates in the turret a good laugh, just when they needed it. Morale in the Grand Fleet was high, and it was climbing.

    On another ship some miles to the east, morale was lower, and it was falling. Shortly before 6.50, Admiral Hipper finally realised that the Grand Fleet was out. His flagship Lutzow's radio had been damaged, and so messages had to be relayed by lamp from the battered Seydlitz. Even without this delay, Admiral Scheer's use of radio had left a lot to be desired as he hadn’t immediately signalled when he encountered the main British battlefleet and made his turn South.
    Hipper's ships were now overmatched by the British battlecruisers. His own increasingly ragged salvos appeared to be doing little harm, while the British gunnery seemed to be improving. Splashes were still erupting around his ships every few seconds, and the enemy’s line had now been reinforced by a fresh pair of ‘Invincible’ class ships. There was some comfort that at least one British ship had fallen out, but there was no chance that he would be able to finish off any damaged stragglers. Now, it was a question of survival.
    At 6.50, he ordered the remains of 1st Scouting Group to turn southeast, which in the interim would preserve his options for retreat either through the Skagerrak or south to Wilhelmshaven.

    15,000 yards to the North, the leading British ships of 1BCS were having difficulty in holding the range, but astern of them the fire of 3BCS was very good. They were fresh to the fight and had recently conducted gunnery practice off the north of Scotland. Even though they were firing at close to the maximum range of their 12" guns, Invincible jammed Lutzow's D-turret with a hit on the barbette-turret joint, while New Zealand’s fire sprung rivets and displaced plates near Goeben's bow and abeam A-turret. From an even longer range, the three remaining ships of 5BS re-entered the fray against the German battlecruisers, but their early ranging shots were short and Hipper's ships disappeared into the mists and the smoke of their own funnels before any hits were obtained. It is possible that a near-miss which led to minor leaks near Seydlitz's rear turret may have been from one of Barham's last shells before she checked fire.

    As increasingly ragged lines of German ships sailed south or southeast, they began to slip away into the haze in the minutes before 7.00.
    Aboard the Bayern, Admiral Scheer found himself studying the plotting table that he had previously regarded as an unnecessary piece of clutter at the rear of the bridge. As he did so, he felt a degree of surprise; was it only this morning that he had been thinking that?
    Since then, the situation had certainly changed. Then, he had been planning a trap; now, he was trying to escape one and run for home. He wanted to be sure, or at least as sure as possible, that he wouldn’t run into the English Fleet again. In that respect, the plot was clear; the enemy had been to the north, sailing East, and although his torpedo boats had held them off, by now they must be pursuing him somewhere to the north and north-east.

    To escape, he knew he had three options.
    He could sail south-southwest, towards Terschelling and then return home behind the relative safety of the minefields. That would be the longest way home, but according to the plot it would mean he could sail directly away from where he thought the Grand Fleet was.
    He could turn East, and try to reach Kiel through the Skaggerak, but that was clearly impractical as the British would be somewhere to the northeast and could have him silhouetted against the setting sun as he approached.
    However, he believed the third approach was the safest, as it was the most direct one; to keep heading south-southeast, towards the Horns Reef. He would have to keep his speed up to cross ahead of the British, but he could guard against them surprising him by stationing his torpedo boats at the rear of the line. There was a risk the British battlecruisers might outrun him, somewhere to the East, but he considered it unlikely.
    He knew they were heavily damaged, and he hoped that they wouldn’t risk another action unless closely supported by their main fleet.

    At 7.02, signals went out to the ships of I and III Geschwaders to make for the Horns Reef at top speed.
    Stavanger 15 - Nightfall
  • Stavanger 15 - Nightfall

    By seven o’clock, most of the heavy guns had fallen silent over the seas southwest of Stavanger.

    Admiral Beatty and his staff had successfully transferred themselves onto the destroyer HMS Defender and had set off in hot pursuit of the rest of the battlecruisers, now a few miles to the East. Such signals as the Admiral had before he left HMS Lion led him to believe the Germans were escaping south, and he had seen the High Seas Fleet turn around. Shortly after boarding the Defender, he ordered his squadron to turn south. Faced with the unfamiliar setup of the destroyer, the Admiral’s Flag Lieutenant proved unable to hoist the flags for a few minutes, and in fact it was Defender’s Signals Officer who eventually bent the signal. The Admiral reportedly directed a ‘well-rounded naval phrase’ at his Flags, before turning around to continue fighting the battle.
    Technically, at this time it should have become Sturdee’s Battle Cruiser Force, as he was senior to Beatty and his ships had now joined the rear of the main battle line. However, in the heat of action and with Beatty signalling furiously from his temporary destroyer-flagship, Sturdee didn’t feel it was advisable to interfere. His decision would be debated for years to come. At that moment he had a better view than Beatty and could see the German battlecruisers retreating to the Southeast, not the South. However, he assumed Beatty wanted to either join the van of the Grand Fleet and support them in engaging the High Seas Fleet, or cut the German battlecruisers off from their home port at Wilhelmshaven. He therefore repeated Beatty’s order to the rest of the squadron.
    Ultimately, that may well have played to the Germans’ advantage, as it was only the High Seas Fleet retreating south. Hipper's battlecruisers sailed away unmolested to the southeast, and would continue to do so for nearly hour, before ultimately turning East towards the relative safety of the Skaggerak.

    At about 7.30, the BCF’s easternmost scouts reported Hipper's ships, or at least ‘Enemy ships sailing southeast’, but there were conflicting reports of heavy ships heading south and Admiral Beatty chose to ignore this new sighting as light forces, or perhaps isolated damaged ships making their way from the battle. Half an hour later, the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron and several destroyers were despatched to finish them off, but in the gathering gloom they failed to find their targets, while they themselves were silhouetted against the light of the setting sun. Hipper did in fact see them but chose not to fire for fear of giving away his position. However, his escorting destroyers engaged furiously. HMS Pelican would later sink and HMS Nestor was ultimately towed home, in return for damage to G102, which was later beached on the Danish coast.

    The Grand Fleet did not regain contact with the HSF before dusk, due to the delay caused by the earlier German torpedo attacks. Both fleets were steaming at about 20 knots and Jellicoe remained cautious due to repeated sightings of German torpedo-boats ahead. At 8.05, cries of ‘Mine’ were heard aboard HMS Monarch, in line behind the flagship Iron Duke, although this was probably a spent torpedo from earlier in the day. As if to compensate for his poor luck or poor judgment in sailing South, at 8.36 Beatty received reports of a single ship sighted to the East. This time, he believed the report, as it could be seen from the Defender. Perhaps out of frustration, or maybe in the belief that where there was one, there might be more, he swung the battlecruisers around to close. The light cruiser Stuttgart didn't stand a chance. She had been damaged earlier during action with British screening cruisers, and it took the battlecruisers just seven minutes to finish her.

    In the growing gloom of the evening, Admiral Jellicoe could only guess what route the Germans would take towards their home port. He would have spotted Scheer by now if the German Admiral had been so unwise as to attempt to break through to the East, but that left two possibilities; the Horns Reef or the route along the north coast of Germany. Scheer’s course as his ships disappeared into the haze suggested the former, but a turn of just a couple of points could change that. If the action were to be renewed tomorrow morning, he therefore had to cover both possibilities, while the ideal of having the Germans silhouetted against the morning light meant a southerly course was attractive.
    As the sun set and visibility rapidly closed in, Jellicoe's nerves were tested. There was gunfire some way away to the southeast (this was 2LCS engaging Hipper's destroyers), but also repeated brief but furious battles between his flotillas and German light forces ahead, which resulted in heavy damage to several Grand Fleet destroyers.
    Late in the evening, Beatty reported sighting the German battlecruisers, but that report was confused by his second signal, ‘Engaging enemy cruiser bearing north-northeast’, along with a position that put Beatty’s ships to the south of where the sound of gunfire suggested they really were.

    Having demolished the Stuttgart, Beatty swung around to the west, disappointed that he hadn’t found the German battlecruisers. Without any certain reports of their location, he decided to resume his position ahead of the Grand Fleet, and the pace of the BCF briefly slowed as he took the chance to board Princess Royal, a somewhat more suitable flagship than the tiny Defender.

    Both fleets would steam south for much of the night. Shortly after 8.30, Admiral Scheer turned slightly to the East to cross ahead of the Grand Fleet. With the sounds of skirmishes astern, Scheer was certain the British knew where he was. He was desperate not to renew the action and planned to launch a torpedo attack early in the morning to try to slow the enemy and buy him a little more time to reach the safety of the minefields.

    By 3 o'clock, Admiral Jellicoe knew the German minefields were not far ahead, but that action could not be resumed before first light. As the first glimmers of light illuminated the horizon at about 3.30, there was no sign of Scheer anywhere to the East.
    Stavanger 16 – The Stragglers
  • Stavanger 16 – The Stragglers

    Overnight, Admiral Scheer’s fleet maintained as high speed as was practical, about 19 knots, in order to stay ahead of the Grand Fleet. He had decided to head straight home, but to avoid being caught silhouetted against the eastern dawn, he had to stay ahead of the British.

    He need not have worried. Overnight, the Grand Fleet had slowed to a cruising speed of 18 knots, and the ships gradually broke up back into a series of divisional lines, as lack of visibility and the tiredness of crews began to have an effect.
    By the time dawn came up, a disappointed Admiral Jellicoe had already broken off the chase and turned Northwest. It was expected that the Germans would sow mines in their wake, and before the battle, intercepted signals suggested that U-Boats were positioned off Norway. The C-in-C therefore wanted to be away to the west before these weapons had an opportunity to even out what appeared to be a British victory. So far, he had been lucky, but these German submarines and minelayers had now had over twelve hours to position themselves and their deadly cargoes. At 3.30, he therefore ordered the Grand Fleet to break off the chase and head home.
    Attention turned to the business of making harbour.

    As the Fleets were heading south overnight, heavily damaged survivors had begun limping back towards their homes. To the northwest, HMS Warspite had extinguished her fires and was steaming slowly back towards Rosyth at 12 knots, her progress hampered by the need to zig-zag to avoid the threat of U-boat attack. Every time the battleship turned, she heeled badly and only slowly righted herself in the swell.
    Some way behind her, Royal Oak was barely moving. Surrounded by three destroyers and trailed by a damaged light cruiser, she was heavily flooded both fore and aft. Her engines were fully operational but attempting anything over 8 knots caused the bow wave to wash over her foc'sle. Waves and the roll of the swell caused more water to enter through her secondary gunports, adding to the problems below, as it had been decided to let it drain down into bilges and even boiler rooms as quickly as possible in order to help preserve what little stability she had left. That morning, the ships of the Grand Fleet were sighted to the south on their way home, and at that time the First Lieutenant estimated her displacement was about 38,000 tons. When she sailed, she would have displaced about 32,500, and since then had burned off about 1,000 tons of fuel and fired 400 tons of ammunition.

    Those few of her crew who had time to notice saw a remarkable sight that morning. At 7.40, a Zeppelin poked its grey nose out from behind a cloud some miles to the south, clearly following the progress of the Grand Fleet. Several ships engaged it with calibres ranging from .303 to 15”, but it turned and climbed away, seemingly unharmed. However, when it reappeared beneath the clouds a few minutes later, heading north towards Royal Oak, its luck ran out. The Zeppelin was engaged by a Short 225 aircraft piloted by Sub-Lieutenant J.A. Mills. Using special bright-burning tracer rounds, he was able to puncture and set fire to the German airship, and thousands of men on the ships below had the satisfaction of seeing the machine fall into the sea. Lt. Mills earned a commendation for his actions, but he also earned his place in history when he landed back alongside Campania. He had become the first man to score an air combat victory from a carrier aircraft.

    Aboard the Royal Oak, bulkheads were holding but there was little stability left in the ship, and she wallowed in the swell as her helmsmen struggled to hold a course at low speed. At ten o'clock, the steering compartment finally began to flood at a rate that the portable pumps were unable to keep pace with. Theoretically, the steering gear would continue to work underwater, but it was another risk.
    With a rising wind and the rudder having little bite at just five knots, the ship could barely be steered anyway, and a few minutes before eleven, her Captain gave up trying and ordered HMS Obdurate to take station ahead and pass a tow line to help stabilise the battleship. However, as the hawser was being passed across, her luck finally ran out. Despite the efforts of the two other destroyers to patrol around the crippled ship, one of the U-Boats that had failed to spring a trap on the Grand Fleet had finally found a target. UB-18 fired two torpedoes at 12.02. One failed and ran on the surface, alerting the escorts and the crew on the battleship, but unfortunately, the second found the ship, and exploded on the port side abeam the forward boiler rooms. In normal circumstances, a single torpedo would not have crippled such a large ship, but Royal Oak had around 7,000 tons of water on board already. The torpedo opened a gash that quickly flooded several wing compartments, and water started to pour into Boiler Room 1. On the bridge, Captain Earle knew the condition of his ship, and he gave the order to abandon the instant the torpedo exploded.
    There was so little stability reserve left in the hull that she started to roll almost immediately. Observers on HMS Onslow saw her deck was awash to port within a minute, and barely two minutes after the torpedo hit, one of the Royal Navy's most powerful and modern battleships rolled over. Fused shells in her forward magazine exploded as the masts hits the water, and there was nothing left to do but pick up survivors and try to hunt for the submarine, which quietly turned away and escaped to the east.

    Some way to the northeast of the sunken Royal Oak, HMS Lion was also in a bad condition. Her port engine room had flooded completely during the night, and there were leaks into the port condenser room and wing spaces. The only way her crew had prevented her from capsizing was by allowing water into the starboard condenser room and then later by drawing the fires and part-flooding the starboard aft boiler room. Waves washed over her quarterdeck as she limped west at 10 knots, using her starboard engine only, while bulkheads in both the damaged and deliberately flooded compartments proved less watertight than they should have been. Shortly after mid-day, salt contamination was found in her boilers and evidence was found that the starboard condenser and several feed tanks were leaking. Using reserve water, she continued west for about an hour before the battlecruisers came into sight to the south, and a tow line was passed from New Zealand. By mid-afternoon, she was once again heading towards home, at just 8 knots.

    By the evening of the 1st August, the German Government was able to say, with some legitimacy, that the German Fleet was back in harbour, following a successful action with the Royal Navy. They claimed to have inflicted losses of 4-to-1 on the British, having sunk Queen Mary, Lion, Royal Oak and Warspite, while admitting only the loss of the Markgraf.
    Stavanger 17 – How went Der Tag?
  • Stavanger 17 – How went Der Tag?

    Far to the south of the British ships, the Germans had just as many problems as their enemies.

    After she fell out of line in the later stages of the ‘Dash to the north’, SMS Derfflinger had turned southeast to try to make for home. As the night drew in the British battlecruisers had sailed just six miles west of her, and had it been daylight, she would have been easy prey for their guns. They might have had another chance later, as they engaged the Stuttgart just a few miles to the south (at first the British believed Stuttgart was the damaged Derfflinger). However, even without the enemy, Derfflinger's fate was sealed; by 10.05, it was clear that there was nothing more that could be done, as water continued to force its way aft from the flooded bow compartments. Destroyers were ordered to come alongside to take the crew off, and by 10.24, the waterline had reached the base of A-turret. The hard-fought ship rolled over a few minutes later, virtually unseen.
    South of her, the Moltke was still limping along. Her Captain had maintained higher speed than was wise to keep up with other ships during the run South, and had kept going as fast as possible for several hours after breaking off action in order to get clear of the battle area, concerned that the British would turn once again and overrun his battered ship. As a consequence, by nightfall she was well on her way home, but her forward bulkheads were badly strained. Pumps and furious shoring-up kept the flooding in check outside of the bow, but her bow was so deep in the water that she ran aground as she tried to enter the Jade. Attempts to back off made the flooding worse, and it would take outside help to bring her into Wilhelmshaven.

    Hipper's flagship Lutzow, along with the Seydlitz and Von der Tann had fled East through the Skaggerak and made it home to Kiel in good time. All would need major repairs, but while Seydlitz's upperworks were shattered and she had lost three turrets, her engines and hull were found to be in good order. Lutzow would be in dock for nearly two months due to the loss of a turret and the effects of salt in her boilers, while Von der Tann would need almost three months’ repairs due to the damage caused by a boiler room fire and the thirteen heavy shells that had hit her during the battle. SMS Goeben limped home more slowly, as she was almost as badly flooded as her sister. However, her repairs were shorter, as despite the widespread damage and flooding, much of it was in non-vital areas, and work was prioritised as she could obviously be brought back into service more quickly than the others.

    The ships of the High Seas Fleet made it home in widely varying states. The slow battleships of the ‘Nassau’ and ‘Helgoland’ classes had not played any significant part in the action (not all of them had even fired at the enemy), although their efforts had sunk a British cruiser during a brief action just before Scheer turned away. The pre-dreadnoughts of II Geschwader hadn’t even seen the enemy, having lagged behind to the south, before turning with the others to stay well away from the action.

    Back in port, as after-action reports started to come in, observers suggested that the Markgraf had been hit by up to 20 heavy shells before she exploded (post-war analysis suggested it was 18), and that she had been heavily on fire aft before the final hit.
    Grosser Kurfurst was the most heavily damaged of the survivors, as nine hits by British 13.5” and 15” shells had burned out her A and C-turrets, and left D-turret jammed by a huge chunk of displaced armour plate, and with its sights and port elevation mechanism wrecked. The ship’s secondary battery had three guns burned out, with one reduced to shards of steel by what must have been a direct hit.
    Shipwrights believed that Konig had also suffered nine hits. D-turret was destroyed, and she needed extensive repairs to her battery and superstructure due to fire damage and the 15” shell that had wrecked her bridge. Flooding amidships had been contained by her crew, and she was docked for less than a week to repair underwater plating. The Kronprinz had suffered less, and needed only a couple of weeks before she was again ready for sea.

    From the quayside, Admiral Scheer surveyed his own flagship, the Bayern, which had been hit seven times by 15” shells.
    The worst of the damage was to C-turret, where one of the mighty 15” guns had been blown out of its cradle by the body of a British shell, which had also carved a deep gouge in the barrel of the gun itself. Remarkably, the turret’s other gun had fired a few more shots, but it had been unable to train aft with the huge steel barrel collapsed down onto the deck. With the turret awry, he hadn’t been able to steam back into harbour with the ship looking as if she was ready to go out and fight again.
    He could now that there had never been any chance of that, as there were ugly burn marks all along the forward 5.9” battery, and the splinter holes that peppered the upperworks. The report in his hand said that she would be out of action for at least eight weeks while the turret was refitted.

    The following day he visited Kiel, to inspect what was left of Admiral Hipper’s squadron. His own High Seas Fleet had fought hard, but that was nothing to what the four surviving battlecruisers had clearly endured. Only the Lutzow still looked like a fighting ship. Despite the efforts of their crews, the decks of Seydlitz and Goeben were littered with twisted wreckage, and Von der Tann’s foc’sle was more a series of jagged holes than it was a deck.

    After that, there was the sorriest ship of all. Aboard a destroyer, he sailed out to see the Moltke. Her bows were still buried in the bar of the Jade, and salvage crews swarmed over her, fixing lifting gear and building coffer dams. With any luck, she would make port within a week, but there was a sinking feeling in his heart as he knew it would be months before she could sail again. Before the destroyer sailed, he had been slightly buoyed by the news that a U-boat had sunk one of the British stragglers; at least that made it equal in terms of losses. Now, the sight of the Moltke lowered his spirits once again.
    In front of him, a steam pump started to chug away, and a moment later water started to pour out of the wreck. No, he thought grimly, the Riskflotte hadn’t been designed to defeat the entire Royal Navy, and unless the fleet became much stronger, it never would.
    Stavanger Finale – The Home Front
  • Stavanger 18 – The Home Front

    In Britain, the morning papers on August 2nd claimed a great victory in the North Sea, although few details were provided. The destruction of the Markgraf was a well-known fact, as was the loss of HMS Queen Mary, but speculation and rumour from Whitehall, Rosyth and other ports suggested that at least 3 or 4 other German dreadnoughts may have been sunk during the night.

    In the North Sea and at the Admiralty, the facts were not so clear and the omens were not so positive. As the fleets had headed home on the morning after the battle, Jellicoe learned of the loss of the Queen Mary, and he heard about the torpedoing of Royal Oak just minutes after it happened. Other radio signals were just as worrying; there seemed to be a very real chance that Lion and Warspite would not make it home. Late that evening, Malaya narrowly avoided a U-boat’s torpedoes, but while attempting to ram the submarine her bulkheads were further strained and her flooding becoming acute.
    By the morning of the third, most of the British fleet had made port, apart from these few lame ducks. Despite a list here and there and scorch marks on almost every ship, Beatty's squadron entered the Forth with flags flying, to the cheers of crowds on the docksides. The cheering soon subsided though, as the level of damage became clearer, and the obvious fact that eleven ships had sailed, while now there were only nine; and two of those were ‘I-class’ battlecruisers instead of the super-dreadnoughts that had sailed. Malaya's arrival a few hours later calmed nerves somewhat, even though her freeboard for’ard was just a few feet. By the evening of the third, only HMS Lion remained at sea, now heavily escorted by the refuelled First Battle Squadron and under tow by the battleship HMS Colossus. Lion would make it home at midday on the 4th, after an exhausting two-and-a-half-day battle by her crew to keep her afloat, their efforts lit only by battery torches and oil lamps. After the battle, there had been no electric power aft of Q-turret, and an attempt to cross-wire the remaining forward dynamo had ended in disaster when repeated overloads caused it to burn out its windings on the morning after the battle.

    The propaganda battle began only hours after the final shots were fired, and both sides made early claims that later made for embarrassing reading. The Germans’ claim to have sunk HMS Warspite by torpedo came in for particular ridicule, as she sailed serenely into the Forth on the afternoon of the third, very deep in the water, but under her own steam and surrounded by a half-dozen destroyers.
    On being signalled by the port Captain, ‘Welcome home, Germany claims you're sunk’, Warspite’s C/O replied, ‘Not sunk. Am now part submersible’. She had nearly 6,000 tons of water on board, and her quarterdeck was just 5' above the sea.
    However, the general rumours that ‘many German dreadnoughts’ had been sunk were also shown to be untrue, at the papers of neutral nations carried pictures of the German fleet back in harbour. Images of the shattered wreckage of Seydlitz's decks were shocking, while an enterprising American newspaperman had managed to charter a Danish fishing boat to take pictures of the Moltke as she lay aground on the bar of the Jade with her foc'sle awash. However, even these American reports made it clear that most of the German fleet had returned home.

    What damaged the German position with neutrals more than anything was the delay in acknowledging the loss of the Derfflinger. For four days after the battle, there was silence, and pictures of her sister Lutzow were circulated abroad, purporting to be her. By the fourth of August, the British fleet was home, and the loss of the Queen Mary and the Royal Oak was public knowledge. For a brief while, it had appeared that the Germans might have scored a tactical victory, despite the heavily damaged ships seen on the Jade. The eventual admission that Derfflinger sank on the night of the battle led neutral (and particularly American) press to question whether German official statements could be relied upon at all; perhaps, even now, The Imperial German Navy had lost more than they were admitting?

    In a simple count of men and ship, it was effectively a draw. The Royal Navy lost two capital ships, one armoured cruiser and seven destroyers, with 4,220 men killed as a result of the battle. In addition, the cruiser Duke of Edinburgh received only superficial repairs, and she was disarmed to become an accommodation ship at Scapa Flow.
    The Kaiser's Navy lost two capital ships, two light cruisers and eight destroyers, with a death toll of 3,644, the lower figure primarily due to the slow sinking of the Derfflinger and the consequent rescue of most of her crew. By contrast, there were only eleven survivors from HMS Queen Mary, while Royal Oak took all but 382 of her crew down with her. Her senior surviving officer, Commander Farrington, later provided several vivid accounts of the battle, and useful details of the massive damage the ship had sustained even before the fatal torpedo hit.

    Neither side were keen to admit the level of damage to the ships that survived, even if some of it was obvious as they returned to their bases.
    At Rosyth, Invincible and New Zealand were undamaged, while Princess Royal and Indefatigable returned to service within a week, albeit with minor defects such as secondary guns remaining ashore while work continued aboard. Valiant was back with the fleet a week later, while Barham and Malaya returned by the end of August. Warspite had been struck by 17 heavy shells, making her the most heavily hit British survivor of the battle. Even so, once she was docked, her plating was swiftly repaired and her guns were made fully operational once A-turret was unjammed. Her port battery was completely burnt out, but by the middle of September, she had re-joined the fleet with just three 6" guns mounted to port. The rest were refitted in October.
    HMS Panther would be out of action until the end of September, although this was partly due to improper repairs to her starboard LP turbine, which led to further damage during trials. Lion took longer as her engines needed an extensive overhaul, and it was not until the 25th October that she sailed again. Even then, her Chief Engineer complained that she was ‘never quite right’ after the battle, and she was regarded as the slowest of the ‘Cats’ until after the war. Princess Royal remained Flagship of the BCF until the end of the year, when Beatty’s successor hoisted his flag on Panther.

    The largest, newest and most powerful ship in the world presented the greatest problem.
    HMS Repulse had been hit 12 times by heavy shells, mostly 11" from SMS Goeben, and although she made port shortly after the lead ships of the BCF, she was in poor shape. One of her boiler rooms had been put out of action, although the other four were still capable of producing more power than any other ship afloat. She had easily maintained the 27-knots and then 24-knots of the increasingly damaged ‘Cats’ ahead of her, despite suffering flooding forward which causing a bow-down trim. What was unseen and unappreciated until some hours after the battle was the underlying damage to the ship's deck amidships. A fierce fire had damaged to the structure of plates and rivets, while a shell had torn a hole in the foc'sle deck nearby. This was a load-bearing deck, the plating of which served to keep the ship's frames together and to provide her with longitudinal strength. The fire around the battery and in other adjoining compartments had also affected the decks below, and while they were not primary load-bearing structures, they all helped to hold the ship together.
    All British battlecruisers were highly stressed ships, and Repulse's light construction took that to new heights as the strength advantages of ‘HT’ steel were more fully utilised than in the earlier Queen Mary and Panther. Compounded by the additional stresses due to the hole in the deck, the heat-weakened structures started to fail as she sailed home. Rivets along the deck and side plating of the ship started to sheer or snap under forces they were never designed to bear. The ship’s speed was reduced, but shortly before she reached Rosyth the sea state worsened, and as she rode the waves cracks in the deck could be seen flexing.
    The ship was in danger of breaking her back, and her Captain was forced to reduce to just eight knots for the last few miles, although an attempt to keep her beam-on to the waves proved impossible. Once in the shelter of the Forth, the motion of the plates eased and the heart-stopping cracks each time a rivet failed occurred much less frequently. Although other ships were superficially more damaged than she was, Repulse was among the first into dock and she stayed there the longest. After just five days with the fleet, she was in for five months of repairs. However, when she sailed again, she was better than new.

    Strategically, the battle changed nothing. By the evening of the 4th August, the Royal Navy had twenty-three battleships and three battlecruisers coaled and ready to fight. Germany had thirteen battleships ready for action. The Royal Navy's patrols of the northern North Sea were scarcely interrupted, and the flow of British trade across the oceans of the world was not disrupted at all. In the words of an American correspondent, writing from London,
    ‘At sea, the German Eagle has sunk its talons into the British Lion, but the Lion still has the stronger claws’.

    By the end of October, the Battle Cruiser Fleet was effectively as strong as it had been before the battle. Another 15" gun ship, HMS Renown, had joined and was well on the way to being worked up, while HMAS Australia and HMS Queen Elizabeth were back in service, compensating for the loss of the Queen Mary and the Royal Oak.
    Jellicoe transferred the three I-class ships to Scapa early that month, finally completing the plan to give the Grand Fleet a fast scout force to supplement the obsolete armoured cruisers, now seen to be inadequate following the loss of Minotaur and the crippling of Duke of Edinburgh.
    The Grand Fleet itself was stronger too, with the addition of the Royal-class HMS Canada.
    By contrast, the Imperial German Navy could not expect any replacements until the New Year. Britannia still ruled the waves, and she did so with more powerful ships than ever before.

    Nevertheless, Stavanger had not been the battle that many expected, nor was it the battle that the public wanted; it was no new Trafalgar.
    Instead, it seemed depressingly similar to the struggle that was going on in France. On the afternoon of the 31st August, Admiral Jellicoe did not lose the war, but nor did he come any closer to winning it.
    A Strong Navy is a Strong Choice
  • A Strong Navy is a Strong Choice

    With a growing economy and sphere of influence, the USA had been building up a strong battlefleet since the start of the century. However, the start of the war showed the limits of this fleet, and of American power. The US Navy did not control the sea, and it could not protect American trade from either German raiders or the British blockade.

    In June 1916, the US Congress passed a gargantuan new Naval Bill. When he heard of it, Britain’s First Sea Lord described the Bill as ‘practically the intention to build a complete Navy, in addition to the one they already possess’.
    He was scarcely exaggerating; orders were to be placed for ten battleships, six battlecruisers, sixteen cruisers and several destroyer and submarine flotillas. Even if the US Navy had been starting from nothing, the Bill would have made it the third strongest in the world, after the British and Germans. If completed, it would make the US battle line as almost as strong as the Royal Navy, while being equipped with newer and larger ships.

    The immense scale of the new American plan meant that it would be funded and accomplished over several years, and the first step taken was to order four new battleships, all near-copies of the ‘Tennessee’ design, but with eight 16” guns in place of twelve 14”.
    There was much excitement within the Navy and at the Bureau of Ships over the authorisation for battlecruisers. Studies into this type of vessel had been underway for some years, and debate had ranged over whether they should be anything from ‘large cruisers’, to ‘fast battleships’. At the time the Bill was signed, the outline of the design loosely followed the British concept of what such a ship should be. The ‘Lexingtons’ would have ten 14”/50 guns in four turrets, with a uniform 5” armour belt covering much of the side of the hull. The ships were designed for 35 knots at load displacement (with about 33½ being expected in service).
    However, when the US Navy learned the results of the Battle of Stavanger, this design was thrown into doubt.

    Although the American government did not have access to detailed British reports and intelligence estimates, a US Navy delegation who visited the Admiralty late in 1916 were shown selected reports from the battle. They were also able to visit HMS Repulse while she was under repair at Rosyth, and saw for themselves some of the damage that had been done.
    The American delegation concluded that, although she was slower than the proposed ‘Lexingtons’, Repulse was as well armed and had slightly better vertical armour protection, and yet she had been heavily damaged at Stavanger by German 11” and 12” fire. A casual British comment that Repulse had been ‘built in a hurry, using only 6” armour’ was illuminating, as it suggested that the British would have preferred to have built a better-armoured ship.

    They also noted that the use of the phrase ‘plunging fire’ was growing more widespread in the British press, as an excuse for the loss of the Queen Mary. Once they were back home, American naval architects compared their own horizontal armour schemes to those of the British and reaffirmed their earlier conclusion that single thick decks were superior to multiple thin ones. However, the Bureau of Ships were not taken in by the British excuse that long-range fire had ‘plunged’ through decks, and concluded (as had the British, in secret) that Queen Mary had probably exploded due to a shell penetrating her aft armour belt. This was the final nail in the coffin for the existing ‘Lexington’ design, as in the area of concern, Queen Mary’s belt had been 5” thick, identical to that proposed for the new ships.

    Meanwhile, rumours began to circulate about the next generation of Royal Navy warships. To Navy Department analysts, it seemed that the ‘Furious’ was effectively a prototype for the new ‘Hood’ class, and that both types would incorporate significantly improved torpedo protection, thicker armour belts and better-protected turrets.
    At around 860' long and with a 100’ beam, American engineers calculated that the new British ships might displace as much as 40,000 tons. Most importantly, they concluded they would probably be armed with 16” guns.
    A Sense of Loss
  • A Sense of Loss

    Despite the ongoing attempts to portray the Battle of Stavanger as a glorious victory, there was widespread public shock in Britain that it appeared to be merely a draw, with the Royal Navy losing two of its most powerful ships. Eyewitness reports circulated stating that the Queen Mary was wrecked by a huge fire or explosion almost in an instant; she was under heavy enemy fire, but was not slowly ground down by shell hits, sunk by torpedoes or lost in any way that might be expected. The only consolation was that Admiral Cradock and his crew had been avenged, as their nemesis, the Derfflinger, had herself been sunk. Meanwhile, Royal Oak was known to have sunk very quickly after just a single torpedo hit, with heavy loss of life among her crew.

    At the Admiralty and in the fleet, everyone wanted to know what went wrong. Tactically, two British capital ships lost in exchange for two Germans was an acceptable exchange (and the extent of the damage to other enemy ships was not yet fully appreciated). However, the German vessels were lost to massive damage by gunfire or torpedo attack - i.e. to ‘predictable’ causes.
    Although he said little on the subject in public, Admiral Beatty was also demanding explanations. He knew that he and his crew may well have only just escaped Cradock’s fate, as an unexploded 12” shell had been found directly outside Lion’s X-turret magazine. Although this incident on Lion was not public knowledge, the Admiral's words started to provoke action within the Navy. Among the top brass, there was concern over morale in the Fleet. If something were seen to be wrong with the ships, would their crews have the confidence to take them into battle and press home future attacks?

    Testimony from witnesses and survivors had been gathered by Board of Enquiry meetings, many of which were held in closed session. The loss of the Royal Oak and much of her crew was simple, although the details were kept from the public for the rest of the war. The testimony of her Gunnery Officer, Executive Officer and other survivors suggested that the ship might not have made it home, even without the torpedo hit. She was practically in a sinking condition after the battle, and the instant loss of buoyancy caused by the torpedo hit led to a swift capsize. The most useful information to come out was that the capsize may have been accelerated by water rushing into the lower casemates of the secondary battery once the ship started to heel over.
    Much of the attention focussed on the loss of the Queen Mary, as she represented both the greatest mystery and the greatest loss of life. In her case, an explosion was associated with an enemy shell (some observers said two) hitting. This left her crippled and sharply down by the stern. A fierce fire continued astern as she settled, which seems to have taken some time, followed by a final huge explosion forward as she sank. Witnesses agreed that a shell hit and the first explosion centred in and around X-turret, and it was assumed that this blew the bottom out of the ship. She sank stern-first, but the upper hull forward of the aft funnel seems to have been left relatively undamaged, according to the testimony of a survivor from Q-turret. The remaining few survivors came from the forward part of the ship, mostly from the navigation and spotting crews, along with a pair from the forward secondary battery. Other than the heeling and obviously sinking ship, none of them reported any damage or fire in their sections. On its own, their testimony did not shed much light on the cause of the loss, however the event on board HMS Lion suggested an answer.
    Shortly after the loss of Queen Mary, a shell holed Lion's aft 5" belt and penetrated through the 1" deck slope to reach the 1.5" torpedo bulkhead that protected the magazine itself. The body of the shell came to rest outside, denting the bulkhead as it did so. Happily, it did not explode, but if it had, splinters and flame would undoubtedly have entered the magazine. If something similar happened on Queen Mary (and the reports suggested a hit in about the right place), it would account for the loss of the ship.

    Since the severe fire that led to the loss of HMS Inflexible in 1915, tests on Cordite propellant had shown that it would burn vigorously when hit by shell fragments. At Stavanger, fierce fires in hoists containing just a few charges were common, suggesting that Cordite would burn rapidly under a far wider variety of conditions than was commonly thought. The fact that Queen Mary appeared to have sunk in a similar way to Inflexible (although it happened much faster) fitted with the results of these experiments, and with a wider range of examples of battle damage. With this new hindsight, Board members also concluded that a shell hit near the forward magazine represented the most likely mechanism that triggered the loss of Inflexible.

    Other reports suggested issues with magazine flash-tightness. HMS Panther had suffered a hit on Q-turret, which led to a severe fire in the turret and working space below. None of the upper turret crew survived, but a survivor from the magazine room reported that the hoist had been moving up with a cargo of charges, then it unexpectedly came down just after the hit. The magazine crew reported that flames entered through vents that were supposed to be one-way. These were designed to allow overpressure out of the magazine (supposedly to prevent an explosion), but not to let fire in. The crew acted quickly and the magazine was flooded before the flames spread, but the fact that it entered at all indicated a basic weakness in the design of the shutters and scuttles that should have kept it out.

    The details of much of the testimony to the Board were kept secret, but recommendations had to be made to the Fleet, and some sort of explanation had to be circulated to satisfy the public and the newspapers, who had expected nothing less than a complete victory. Longer-term, there would have to be investigations into the stability and formulation of Cordite and the conditions in magazines, turrets and hoists.
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    Speed, Armour, Guns … or all three?
  • Speed, Armour, Guns … or all three?

    Aside from the losses at Stavanger, it became clear from dockyard and after-action reports that the Royal Navy’s battlecruisers were far more susceptible to damage than the battleships. Such a conclusion was obvious in many ways, as the ships had not been designed to fight enemy battleships, and accordingly had lighter armour. However, when fighting other battlecruisers equipped with battleship-sized guns, the ships of 1BCS suffered the effects of damage far more quickly than those of the Fifth Battle Squadron.

    The battleships of 5BS were hit by between 10 and 17 heavy shells each, with an average of 13.8. Although Royal Oak was crippled by the 18 or 20 hits she endured, Warspite made it home after being hit 17 times, and both Barham and Malaya (with 13 hits each) were still capable of fighting at the end of the battle.
    By contrast, the battlecruisers of 1BCS were hit between 8 and 12 times each (discounting Queen Mary, which blew up early in the battle). The average was just 9.25 hits each (or 8 if Queen Mary was included), but even so the seaworthiness and fighting effectiveness of the ships was severely diminished. Lion was incapable of further action after being hit just eight times, while Repulse with 12 hits barely made it home, and would remain in dock for repairs for many months to come. In addition, most of the battlecruisers were under fire from 11" guns (although Lion primarily fought Lutzow, with 12"), while the battleships endured 12" fire, with 15" hits scored on both Warspite and Royal Oak.
    As was to be expected, there was a degree of luck in the nature of the damage, as the eight hits sustained by Princess Royal did little to impair her fighting ability, while even the smaller Indefatigable was in relatively good condition after being hit seven times.

    Battlecruisers could clearly be at considerable risk when fighting each other. Before the war, the trend had changed towards building ‘fast battleships’ before the results of early actions and Fisher's influence moved construction back towards fast, lightly armoured ships.
    However, the analysis of logs and plots illustrated a worrying point for the Royal Navy; the fast battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron had barely been fast enough, while the damage to 1BCS showed that the battlecruisers were more vulnerable to their own kind than had been thought before the war.

    The Director of Naval Construction and his staff drew a series of confidential conclusions:

    - Hits outside of the armoured centre of a ship could cause significant problems. No British ship was directly sunk due to such hits, but the loss of speed and seakeeping abilities led to close calls for Lion, Warspite and Barham and undoubtedly contributed to the swift capsize of Royal Oak. Thin armour to the stem or stern seemed to be of little value, but steering gear and shafts needed greater protection from shrapnel.

    - Deck protection would need to be increased over vital areas. In several ships, engine or boiler rooms suffered damage as a result of splinters from hits higher up in the ship, and the DNC’s staff suggested that such an event also represented an alternative mechanism for triggering the magazine fire that led to the loss of the Queen Mary.

    - Watertight bulkheads needed to run as high as possible and greater attention should be paid to avoiding any penetrations for trunking or steam lines low down in the ship. Subdivision outside of the main armoured areas should be increased, perhaps in place of thin armour.

    - Underwater protection was inadequate in almost all existing ships. The mining of HMS Audacious, the torpedoing of Indomitable and other losses had already shown that the threat of damage from below-water explosions needed to be addressed. The new ‘Admiral’ class designs were an improvement, with crushing tubes and several watertight bulkheads between the hull and the inner machinery. Repulse and Royal George were being fitted with an experimental ‘bulge’ that would keep torpedo explosions away from the hull, but further tests should be made to validate and improve on the designs.

    In the long term, these would pose a problem for designers and shipwrights, but in the short term, the sailors of the Fleet were reassured to see additional armour being installed around turrets.


    Across the North Sea, the German Admiralty had made its own assessment of the damage and came to similar conclusions. According to her Captain’s report, the Derfflinger was probably finished even before she limped away from the battle. However, she finally sank due to progressive flooding through bulkheads that were supposed to be watertight; an issue that also affected Moltke and Seydlitz to varying degrees.
    Markgraf seemed to have been overwhelmed by the rapid fire of at least three British battleships, having already suffered damage during the run north. Other than that, German armour seemed to have stood up well to British fire, with many shells exploding on the plates or breaking up before they could penetrate. However, splinter damage to lightly armoured areas was severe, and the sheer power of the British 15” guns meant that anything other than the thickest parts of the belt could be vulnerable, even if struck at long range.

    It was the lack of firepower that aroused the greatest concern, as observers reported seeing numerous hits on British ships, and yet the enemy's vessels remained in action and returned effective fire. It was noted that the Queen Mary and the Lion (clearly the most heavily damaged of British battlecruisers) had been under fire from the 12” guns of Lutzow and Derfflinger, and Admiral Hipper suggested that he could have crippled or sunk more of Beatty’s ships on the run south if all of his vessels had been equipped with 12” guns. However, the armour of the British battleships clearly outmatched the 12” guns, as on the run north, the ‘Queen Elizabeths’ seem to have withstood the fire well, while the 15” guns of Bayern clearly had a devastating effect on Royal Oak.

    In the long term, Admiral Scheer believed that Germany must concentrate on building well-armed, and not merely well-armoured ships, and it seemed that the ‘Mackensen’ and ‘Ersatz Yorck’ classes would be steps in the right direction. However, at best Mackensen herself would only be ready in the autumn of 1917, while none of the others could be completed before the summer of 1918.
    In the short term, the Admiral knew the Fleet could not resume full-scale offensive operations until December at the earliest, and there were strong arguments in favour of postponing until the spring, when the Baden and Hindenburg would be ready. Meanwhile, other means of harassing the enemy were needed, and he suggested a series of destroyer raids, to buy time to refit and build up U-boat forces, before launching an all-out offensive in the New Year.
    Messing About with Boats
  • The Ongoing Saga of the Admiral Class

    The third Admiral-class battlecruiser, HMS Rodney, was laid down on 1st August 1916, just hours after the Battle of Stavanger was over. She and her sister HMS Hardy would always have been of a slightly different design, but Stavanger knocked the design of the entire Admiral class about completely. Irrespective of the exact cause of the loss of the Queen Mary, British shells clearly needed to improve to match the Germans, and so too did British armour protection. As the examination of unexploded shells produced results and the capabilities of the German projectiles became better understood, it was clear that armour belts would have to be thicker in future.

    However, by the time any serious analysis became available in October, Hood and Howe, the first two ships, were more than seven months into their construction, and so there was a limit to what could be done to redesign them. It was even suggested that they be cancelled, but with the certainty that the Germans were building powerful new ships, it was a question of making the best of what was available. As an alternative to cancellation, consideration was given to suspending all of them (or all except Hood), but with the prospect of German 14" or 15" gun battlecruisers entering service by the end of 1917, both Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty advised it was essential to press on with the first two, particularly when the 15" gun ‘Renown’ class ships were so obviously deficient in all areas of their armour protection.
    If any of the Admiral-class ships were to be completed in 1918, it was already too late to change them dramatically, or even to amend the orders for some types of armour plate. Hood's construction was therefore prioritised to complete her as soon as possible with limited modifications, while Howe would receive the limited production of thicker plates that could be available in time. In common with most of the fleet, Hood had an additional 1" HT plate added to the tops of her turrets and splinter protection was added to secondary ammunition hoists.

    It was also possible to improve armour on the hull, and she had an extra inch (making 3") added over 270’ of her deck slopes alongside the magazines. The armour mills advised they could increase the thickness of the plates they were making for the upper belt to 9” with no delays to production, which would give the ship a uniform 9” belt between A-Y turrets, stretching from lower to upper decks.
    Another apparent lesson from Stavanger was that splinters might be able to start fires in magazines or ready racks containing Cordite, so it was proposed to fit an additional 1.5" armour to the lower deck over the magazines, which would stop any splinters that made it through the belt or the decks above. In all, in October 1917 over 800 tons of armour was added to the design.

    A few weeks later, further improvements were added in the shape of armour ‘boxes’ around the magazines, boosting the lower deck to 2” and adding 2" HT steel on the outer bulkheads of the magazine compartments themselves. Contrary to some later statements by naval officers and designers, these additions were not made to cope with long range ‘plunging fire’, they were to ensure that any fragments that made it through the belt would not reach the magazines (as had nearly happened to HMS Lion).
    The changes would only delay her completion by a few weeks, and would increase normal displacement to 37,855 tons, with the increases partly offset by the ship's lower than expected hull weight. Speed would be reduced by about ¼ knot.

    Howe was a few weeks behind Hood, which made her hull slightly more accessible. It was therefore thought sensible to allow a short delay in her construction in order to add armour in a more structured way, with wider changes to her armour belts. Her lower belt could be thickened to 11”, and material already in production for her old lower belt would be used to form her upper belt, increasing this to 9”. Her end bulkheads would be thickened to 10”.

    The outer parts of the upper deck were thickened to 2", partly to improve protection over the upper belt and partly to help strengthen the ship. The main deck would be thickened to a uniform 2” over boiler rooms, with the slope and outer 20’ of the deck increased to 3” over the magazines and engine rooms. As the thicker belts and decks were expected to keep shells and splinters out, there would be no armour boxes around the magazines.
    There were further minor increases in splinter armour around the 6” hoists, and changes to the gunshields added somewhat better protection for their crews. Howe’s main turrets were less advanced in their construction than Hood's, and so could be fitted with 5" roofs made from a single thickness of plate, rather than the multiple 2" and 1" plates used on Hood.
    Once necessary strengthening was added to the hull to allow for the additional weight of armour, Howe’s displacement would be 38,775 tons at load, or 42,700 tons full load, with her speed expected to be about a ¼-knot less than Hood.
    Admirals section.png
    Armour scheme of Hood and Howe
    As Glorious entered service late in 1916, data on the performance of the new types of boiler was confirmed, and although the machinery of the ‘Admirals’ was slightly different, the Engineer-in-Chief was confident that he could uprate it to 138,000shp without any increase in weight; a useful boost that would help to counteract the increased displacement.
    On trials in 1919, Howe made 31.63 knots on the mile at 141,200 shp, when just a couple of hundred tons over her load displacement; almost equalling her original design speed, even though weight had grown by 2,500 tons. Hood made 31.1 knots from 140,300shp at 40,800 tons, a highly creditable achievement as she was just 1,000 tons off full load.

    In service, there was little to choose between them in terms of speed. When clean, both ships could make 30 knots in any load condition, although Howe came to be regarded as the more economical of the two.

    hood 1920b.jpg

    Hood as completed​
    Coastal Waters
  • Coastal Waters

    As a neutral nation with the ability to trade with the world, by 1916 both Dutch merchants and the Netherlands government itself found there were great profits to be made from the war, particularly when it came to importing materials from their East Indies colonies, or buying from the Americas, and then re-exporting to Germany.
    Needless to say, the Allies took a dim view of this practice, as it created a leak in the blockade. However, the Dutch were clever, and with very few exceptions, their cargoes always passed the neutrality inspections that were regularly carried out in the North Sea. Both warring alliances largely respected Dutch territorial waters, despite occasional clashes between British and German light forces in the southern parts of the North Sea.

    However, most of the action was away to the southwest, and in late 1916 the Germans began a series of more aggressive attempts to disrupt shipping in the English Channel by challenging the Dover Barrage. Two Flotillas of torpedo boats were deployed to Zeebrugge and Ostend under Admiral von Schroder, and they launched a series of night-time raids.
    The skirmishes in the dark after the Battle of Stavanger had confirmed earlier German suspicions that the British were ill-prepared and even unwilling to engage at night. Black-painted British destroyers showed up better than the grey German boats on anything other than the darkest of nights, and so Schroder chose to use the night to maximise his forces’ advantage.

    A series of close-range, snap actions occurred throughout October, during which six British destroyers were sunk and a dozen more damaged, in return for the loss of just three German torpedo boats. British cross-Channel shipping had to be halted during the lengthening nights of autumn, and the old destroyers that had been guarding the Straits had to be reinforced by newer ‘M-class’ ships from the Grand Fleet.
    Admiral Schroder submitted a plan to use the repaired Goeben and Seydlitz to support a heavy raid on the Anglo-French base at Dunkirk, to open the way for German torpedo-boats and cruisers to enter the channel in daylight. However, the loss of the G91 to a mine on 27th October highlighted one particular risk of the plan, while Admiral Hipper objected to the idea of sending two of his three operational battlecruisers so far into the congested waters south of the Hook of Holland.

    By the middle of November, the German raids were producing diminishing returns. Two more torpedo boats were lost on the night of the 16th, when a British force unexpected fired large numbers of powerful flares to illuminate the scene, whereupon four M-class destroyers, Munster, Noble, Morris and Mindful, poured fire into the leading German ships and launched a total of ten torpedoes. G88 had her bows blown off and would sink later that night, while S54 was overwhelmed by the British gunfire. All her boilers were put out of action within minutes and she was left crippled, but she maintained steady fire from her aft 4.1” gun, despite the impossible odds. She sank with her colours still flying, leaving the British ships to pick up just eleven survivors.

    Aside from a few inconclusive skirmishes later in November, that was the end of the Dover Strait campaign, and in December the torpedo boats were withdrawn back to Wilhelmshaven.
    The operations caused disproportionate loss for the Royal Navy and some interruption to the smooth flow of supplies across the Channel, but the long-term consequences were probably more favourable to the British. The great increase in the number of patrols led to an alarming discovery; that U-boats were in the habit of running the Dover Straits at night on the surface. Most of the minefields were deployed on the assumption that submarines would be submerged, and during the course of the war so far, only one submarine had been sunk by mines in the Dover Barrage. It was therefore assumed that most U-boats were using the route around the north of Scotland to reach the Atlantic and the Western Approaches, which had led to disastrously bad practices that greatly helped the submarines’ skippers. At night, many of the Channel minefields were marked by acetylene lamps to help prevent British shipping from blundering into them.

    At Dover, Admiral Bacon would respond by starting to deploy new minefields, but progress was initially slow, in part due to a reluctance to accept the facts. He had spent the better part of 1915 and ‘16 arguing that the lack of sinkings in the Channel was a clear indication that few U-boats were using the Dover Straits. The need the accept and admit the exact opposite slowed the pace of change, until a host of new appointments were made in the opening days of 1917.
    Sixteen Bells
  • Sixteen Bells

    The failure of the summer offensive on the Somme and the heavy losses suffered by the French at Verdun left the British government and High Command facing a difficult situation at the end of 1916. The French army was exhausted and could do little more than defend the lines, for now. Plans were being made to renew the British offensive in the spring, but without significant French support it might have to be a question of wearing down the Germans, rather than attempting a breakthrough.

    At the Admiralty, there was renewed concern over the relative strengths of the Royal Navy and High Seas Fleet in the light of recent reports from neutral observers and spies on Germany's northern coasts. The German Navy was known to have completed another 15" battleship of the ‘Bayern’ class, and the new battlecruiser Hindenburg was believed to be nearly ready, armed with 14" guns. A 15" gunned battlecruiser, the Mackensen, would be completed by the middle of 1917. Another pair of ‘Bayerns’ and a further six battlecruisers were under construction, although none of these were expected to be completed until 1918.
    Recent intelligence from Amsterdam showed that work was nearly complete on the Dutch battleship Piet Hein (the ex-Greek Salamis), which was a largely German design, but armed with American 14" guns. The ship had been sold to the Dutch in 1914, reportedly at a bargain price, and the incomplete hull had been transferred from Hamburg early in 1915. The Germans had undoubtedly used the deal to help pay for goods shipped through Holland, but her construction had been slowed by delays in the delivery of materials from Germany, and then the need for Bethlehem Steel to build another set of guns to replace the ones that had first been blockaded by the British and subsequently sold to the Royal Navy.
    At the Admiralty, there was concern that the Netherlands might be willing, or may be forced, to transfer the battleship to the Germans. If this were to occur, by the summer of 1917 the German fleet could have commissioned four new ships since Stavanger (Baden, Hindenburg, Mackensen and the Dutch ship), all of which were believed to mount 14” or 15” guns.
    With the exception of the delayed battleship Royal George, Britain would not commission any new heavy ships in 1917.

    The Royal Navy would maintain its numerical superiority, but an extra four ships versus only one was not a comfortable thought for the Admiralty, particularly in light of concerns over the quality of British shells and armour protection that had surfaced since Stavanger. By the end of 1917, the RN would have a maximum of 37 first-rate ships, but three of these were 12” battlecruisers of low fighting value, while the other six fast ships were known to have weaknesses and were vulnerable to 14” or 15” fire. That left just 28 battleships able to stand in the line.
    If the Dutch ship was transferred, Germany might have as many as 26 ships, with the only minor comfort being that four of these were the slower ‘Nassau’ class.

    Meanwhile, the leakage of supplies to Germany through the Netherlands had been increasing in recent months, a trade from which the Dutch made a handsome profit. Intensive observation and interception by the Royal Navy was resented by the Dutch authorities, who protested at this harassment of neutral shipping. However, they knew the British could stop them if they chose and were not so stupid as to attempt to import munitions or war materials for other than their own, modest needs.
    All intercepted cargoes had been found to be food and raw materials, although they included oil and ores for specialist metals such as Chromium. It had been impossible for the British to prove that these materials were not for use by the Dutch, and so they had reluctantly let them through. The British government had been further irritated by the sale and re-registration of several German merchant vessels under the Dutch flag. Once again, care was taken to ensure such sales occurred in the harbours of smaller countries, as more powerful neutrals such as the United States might easily find reason to object to the practice.
    Despite the French government’s position that they would consider all ex-German ships as German, no matter who they were sold to, the British maintained a more nuanced approach. They could not afford to drive the Dutch into an alliance with Germany by blockading them, as a belligerent Netherlands would dramatically improve German supply lines to the Western Front, while the use of Dutch ports would intensify the naval threat in the Channel and North Sea.

    Maintaining a neutral stance had been difficult for the Dutch too. Their homeland was surrounded by Germany, or German-occupied territory, and yet it was the British Navy that permitted their colonial and foreign trade to continue. It was therefore politically expedient to stretch the definition of neutrality to accommodate their powerful neighbours in different ways. Wartime damage to continental trade had been a significant setback to the Dutch economy, and the threat of war had tested their resources, making the opportunity to profit from ‘re-exports’ too good to miss.

    In the East, the Russian offensive in the summer of 1916 had produced the greatest Allied gains since the start of the war, but it was notable that after early successes against the Austrians, the advance had been held by the Germans, with the heaviest casualties in the north. In the south, the Russians had reached the Carpathian mountains, before both sides simply ran out of supplies and the fighting ceased as winter closed in.
    Despite its successes, the Russian army was exhausted after the vast effort of the Brusilov offensive. The nation had lost over 4.5 million troops as casualties or prisoners since the war began, and despite the supply situation looking no worse than in 1915, the Russian economy was struggling and the army was becoming increasingly discontented.

    For the Germans and their allies, the picture looked equally grim.
    The death of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor in November had removed what little enthusiasm there was for war within the divided empire. Emperor Karl wanted peace, but with few neutral neighbours, he was forced to ask the Turkish Sultan to broker talks with the Russians. The Russians distrusted the Turks almost as much as they did their Austrian enemy, and this combined with the arrogance of the Tsar to ensure that the peace proposal was never seriously considered; although it is perhaps ironic that this decision may have sealed the fate of the Russian Empire just as much as it did that of Austria.
    In the absence of peace, there was no alternative but to continue fighting the Russians in the East, the Italians in the West and the Serbian-British-French forces in the south.

    In Berlin, General Hindenburg was gravely concerned about the nation’s morale. The German peoples’ willingness and ability to wage war was past its peak. As the winter deepened, there were food riots across Germany, and not even the trickle of supplies that came in through Holland could prevent ever-widening shortages. For now, the Army had its men and its shells, but the High Command knew that 1917 would have to be the decisive year.
    The offensive at Verdun and the defensive battle along the Somme had cost the German Army heavily. The war had to be won in the East before there was any possibility of a German offensive in the West. The Russian offensive and Romania’s declaration of war against the Central Powers in August had almost broken the Austro-Hungarian Army, before German troops helped to hold the line, and drive the Romanians back to their pre-war boarders.
    The only encouraging development was that Bulgaria had joined the war on the German side, and their forces were making progress against the Romanians with only minimal help from Germany.

    In December, as the fighting in both East and West became less intense, the German Chancellor sent a note to the American government, offering peace negotiations to the Allies. However, the Army’s High Command were still determined that the war had to be won, while the Admirals believed that an intense campaign of unrestricted attacks by submarines could force Britain to seek peace. Shortly before the New Year, the Chief of the Naval Staff stated that he was confident of victory within six months of launching such a campaign.
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    The Right Armament
  • The Right Armament

    The Battle of Stavanger produced many lessons that would be learned and re-interpreted over many years. For the Royal Navy, foremost among those was that torpedoes were of little use to capital ships in a fleet action, and that British gunfire didn't do as much damage as was expected. Both of those seemed to have a common cause – extreme range. Most of the action at Stavanger took place beyond 15,000 yards, and even the closest ranges were 11-12,000.
    Slow running torpedoes were of little use at such ranges (if they could reach them at all), and while pictures in the American papers showed ‘wrecked’ German ships that limped into Kiel or Wilhelmshaven, the fact remained that they had made it home. Most of their ships continued to run and fight until the end of the battle; suggesting that their vitals, armament and propulsion were not as heavily damage by British gunnery as they should have been. At the very long ranges that now seemed to be the norm (ranges of 6,000-10,000 yards were expected before the war), it was clear that only a few hits could be expected. Therefore, when they occurred, they must do as much damage as possible.

    That thought led to the question of gun calibre; all British capital ships designed since 1912 had been equipped with 15" guns (apart from Fisher’s ‘large light cruisers’). The 15" Mk.1 was considered a very successful weapon, but both Japan and the USA were known to be working on ships with 16" guns. In Britain, there had been studies into 16", 16.5" and 18" guns, but the 16.5” had been given a lower priority than the 18”, and there was only one manufacturer capable of delivering such large guns.
    Long-term, new guns, torpedoes and ships might need to be designed, but the urgencies of war meant that for now, it was essential to use could be available in the near future. A further pair of ‘Admiral’ class battlecruisers had been authorised, but both were suspended only days after Stavanger while consideration was given into whether their design should be changed.
    Fitting them with eight 18" guns would amount to a complete redesign, and it was found that only nine or ten guns could be ready in time for the ships’ expected completion in 1919. A follow-on proposal to fit just four 18" guns in single turrets was quickly rejected. Admiral Jellicoe had long criticised the ‘large light cruisers’ which had just four or six main guns, and his successor, Admiral Beatty, was not prepared to endorse a design with fewer than eight main guns.

    The Royal Ordinance Factory was working on a 16.5" design, but there were other British alternatives, in the form of Vickers 16" guns originally designed for the Imperial Russian Navy. Although the ships for which they were intended had been suspended at the start of the war, Vickers had continued development of two guns on their own initiative and expected to test-fire the first example early in 1917. Naturally, there were grave concerns over the proposed use of a ‘foreign gun’ on a British ship, but Vickers had pursued two subtly different versions.
    The original design was based on sound principles and featuring a series of interlocking tubes in place of the usual wire-wound barrels. However, the DNO’s office already had experience with a similar design; a set of 14” guns delivered by the Americans in 1915. At that time, it had proposed to fit these to Fisher’s ‘large light cruisers’, but following their delivery to the UK, it was found that their construction was so poor that ex-Chilean (Armstrong-built) 14” wire-wound guns and turrets had to be substituted instead.
    The American guns were fitted to monitors instead, and although the inspections of one of the spare guns had revealed faults in the way the tubes were locked together, it was found that they performed adequately; service reports showed that some guns were worse than others, but the best were as good as any British gun.

    However, seeing that tubular built-up guns were entirely out of favour, Vickers had started work on a part-wire-wound version of their 16” gun. This benefitted from the lightweight tubular construction near the muzzle but used the trusted wire technique near the breach where the gun needed to be strongest. Most importantly, this second prototype was built to use British propellants and meet accepted British margins of safety.

    The tubular ‘Mark I’ gun was more advanced, but it was designed for use with Russian propellants, which were quite different to British Cordite. The nitrocellulose used by the Russians burned more slowly and at a lower temperature than the British charges, and while it would be possible to fire the gun using Cordite, using the same charge would probably destroy it. Vickers estimated the gun could use only about 2/3 as much Cordite as the Russian powder, resulting in a muzzle velocity of no more than 2,200 ft/sec. At such low speeds, the gun would be little better than the existing British 15”.
    However, the newer part-wire ‘Mark II’ design included a strengthened and enlarged chamber, allowing more propellant to be used. This, together with a British-style shell in place of the version Vickers had built for the Russians allowed muzzle velocity to be restored.
    The Mark II would be able to fire a 2,340lb shell at 2,450ft/sec. At 110 tons, the gun itself was slightly heavier than the British 15", but the new turrets being designed for the ‘Admirals’ could be adapted to carry these more powerful weapons. The tubular Mark I gun could be used as a prototype, so the 16” could complete its firing trials and be in production in time for the ships' expected completion in 1919.

    HMS Rodney and HMS Hardy were only just being laid down as Stavanger was fought, and their design had already diverged from the first pair of ‘Admirals’. It included a single, large funnel, which was supposed to make range and inclination more difficult to measure, and the armour scheme had been improved. In December 1916, construction was resumed, and the legend was approved in mid-January. The pair could be called the first true fast battleship design; eight of Vickers’ 16" Mk.II guns would be fitted into the same 850’ hull of the earlier ‘Admirals’.
    Internally, they would be very different. To make room for the larger turrets and magazines, three boilers would be removed (leaving 18 in three rooms), and the reduction in power allowed a novel rearrangement of the engine rooms. The forward room was identical to Hood and would power the wing shafts, but the two after rooms were amalgamated into one, to supply just 41% of the total power to the two inner shafts. This design saved a great deal of length, and despite the larger guns, the main armoured citadel could be just 493’ long, instead of 550’ in Hood.

    Admirals section2.png

    This meant the armour was more concentrated, and it could therefore be thickened. A uniform 12" belt ran between end barbettes to the upper deck, with Howe-style layered deck armour. The main deck was a uniform 3”, with an additional 1.5” splinter deck above the magazines. Partly to compensate for the extra topweight of turrets, armour, rangefinders and searchlights, the torpedo bulkhead was thickened to 1.75”, and strengthening plates were added in key areas of the keel.

    The design came out at 39,755 tons (normal), with full load expected to be about 44,000 tons.
    With an installed power of 118,000shp, it was hoped to achieve 30 knots on trials, although at a more realistic fighting load and a few months out of dock, 28 knots would be more realistic.

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    HMS Rodney as approved, January 1917​
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    ‘Now we can get on with winning the war’
  • ‘Now we can get on with winning the war’

    In Germany, the Generals had taken effective control of the government.
    In Austria, the new Emperor was persuaded, some say forcibly, that his exhausted nation must continue the struggle.
    In Russia, the man who believed himself to be the most powerful in the world continued to demand ever greater efforts from his people.
    In France, the energetic General Nivelle was now in charge of the Army, and had a plan for a swift, decisive victory.
    In Italy, there was still an intense will to fight, even though the results of the war so far had been few and costly.

    In Britain, Lloyd George was now Prime Minister, and he was determined to wage war with renewed determination and relentlessness. New committees and new laws attacked the problems of idleness and drunkenness in the factories. Forms of conscription were introduced to boost army recruitment. New quality controls on munitions were implemented, following complaints about the standards of British shells on battlefields from the Somme to Stavanger.
    The old generation of pre-war commanders were giving way to younger men near the top of both the Army and the Navy, and with them came new ideas as to how the stalemate could be broken.

    Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic and the Western Approaches, the Germans had unleashed a new wave of unrestricted submarine warfare. Since the limited, but successful campaign in 1915, the number of submarines had more than doubled, as had the reserves of torpedoes. On January 26th, the German government notified all neutral nations that it considered the waters around the British Isles to be a ‘war zone’, and that all ships carrying goods in that area were liable to be seized or sunk. The United States government was assured that every effort would be made to ensure the safety of civilians, but U-boat Captains were advised to exercise Cruiser Rules only when practical, with vessels known to be unarmed and unescorted.
    Admiral Holtzendorff believed that 600,000 tons of merchant shipping would need to be sunk every month, for six months, in order to wreck British trade. The first months of the campaign produced good results, although sinkings fell slightly short of the goal.

    However, that was before British countermeasures began to take effect. During the previous submarine campaign, Admiral Fisher had successfully argued for the introduction of convoys. Although his scheme was never fully put into effect (the German campaign ended before it could be), the number of sinkings did fall, and by enough to convince politicians and several key naval officers that convoying still had a place in modern warfare.
    At government urging, the Admiralty acted relatively swiftly. On the 19th February, the first convoy of 11 ships left from Liverpool, escorted to the boundary of the ‘war zone’ by an armed sloop. The scheme was extended to the Western Approaches in March, although at first it was not compulsory for ships to wait for a convoy, providing they followed the ‘patrolled routes’. However, these routes soon became well known to the U-boat Captains as they provided them with easy targets. Word of the frequency of attacks soon spread among British seamen and shipowners, and by the end of April, most of the larger vessels were using the convoy system.
    Off the North of Ireland and on the East coast, convoying was more widespread, and by the end of March there was a clear difference it the rates of loss between the Western Approaches and elsewhere (although this was undoubtedly also due to the number of U-boats seeking easy targets).

    The Royal Navy had come up with other schemes in the 18 months since the last German campaign, and political pressure, including the direct intervention of the Prime Minister, ensured that these were swiftly put into practice.
    The first two were very simple. Large numbers of merchant ships were armed, usually with either a 12-pdr or a 4” gun. Each gun came with a trained naval crew and the ships were provided with proper lookout stations, manned by experienced ratings. Naturally, most of these men had to come from the Fleet, as did many of the guns. In March and April, almost every Grand Fleet battleship and battlecruiser with 4” secondaries lost two guns, and all ships lost two guns’ crews.

    These armed ships would form the core of ‘small convoys’; a group of three or four ships that would sail together. While not as effective as a proper full-size convoy, it reduced the loss rate, while keeping the shipowners happy that their vessels were not stuck waiting for large convoys to assemble. By the end of the war, these small convoys were acting as feeders for larger ones, but in the spring of 1917, that was still some way in the future.

    In February, 535,000 tons of shipping was sunk.
    In March, despite the northern convoys, the total rose to 580,000 tons.
    In April, with destroyers taken from the Grand Fleet, wider use of small and large convoys and increasing numbers of coastal patrol craft, losses fell to 498,000 tons; and much more help was on the way.
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    Above and Below the Waves
  • Above and Below the Waves

    At Scapa Flow, Admiral Beatty was in now established in command of the Grand Fleet, aboard his flagship HMS Royal Sovereign.
    Since the Battle of Stavanger, the fleet had been reinforced by the battleships Royal George and Canada, who joined their sisters and the ‘Queen Elizabeths’ to complete 5th Battle Squadron. However, with a realistic top speed of 23½ knots, the C-in-C knew that this squadron’s place was as a fast vanguard for the Grand Fleet, not as heavy support for the battlecruisers.
    Although he had lobbied hard for them to join the Battle Cruiser Fleet early in 1916, the experience of battle and the responsibility of command had affected his views. The two groups of fast ships had become separated at Stavanger, and Beatty didn’t want the BCF’s new commander to risk taking on the German Fleet on his own.
    In any case, Admiral Sturdee already had a powerful force; since the battle in August 1916, the BCF had been strengthened by the addition of Renown, Courageous and Glorious, while in January, Repulse had returned to service after five months of repairs.

    In addition to repairs to battle damage, Repulse had received significant improvements to her protection, along lines that would form a prototype for other ships. The greatest change was the addition of ‘bulges’ along the sides of the hull, intended to protect against torpedo attack. The idea had been tried before in cruisers, and an internal bulge was included in some of the most modern designs, but this was the first time that one had been retrofitted to a large ship.
    The bulges added 10' to the ship's beam underwater and met the existing hull at the bottom of the belt. In addition, there was a 2" increase to the lower deck and slopes over the magazines (giving 3” and 4” respectively), along with several improvements to range-finding equipment, which raised her displacement to 30,670 tons normal, or 34,850 tons full load.
    The ship was wanted back in service immediately and there was no time for formal trials, but after a brief refit in 1918, she achieved 29.86 knots with 122,260 shp while displacing 32,650 tons. At that time, her engines did not achieve as high a rev rate as they should have, showing that there was a mismatch between the propellers and the speed/power curve of the modified hull. Her Chief Engineer and later her Captain requested that new props be fitted, but with other ships in greater need of refits, the war would be long over before that was done.

    Aside from improvements to current vessels and revisions to battle orders and tactics, consideration was being given to the future, as the Naval Aircraft Committee reported in February 1917.

    The use of aircraft at Stavanger had produced two important results; it had given Admiral Jellicoe additional information about the location of both the enemy and the BCF, and the following day, a German attempt at reconnaissance had been interrupted when a seaplane shot down a Zeppelin.
    Floatplanes were now being carried aboard several battleships and cruisers, while at the other end of the scale there was an idea for a set of ‘aviation vessels’ to be used to launch strikes against enemy ships in harbour. However, this was regarded as rather fanciful; the ships did not exist, and the practice of dropping torpedoes from aeroplanes had barely been tested.
    There was considerable debate as to the possible value of attempting to bomb ships, as numerous officers pointed out that even a 500-pound bomb was small in comparison to the half-ton or one-ton shells that capital ships were designed to resist. A few argued that a bomb falling on a deck might do some damage, but probably no more than an equivalent weight of shell. The report called for trials to be made, but in the heat of war the resources for this were needed elsewhere.

    However, the report also concluded that disrupting aerial reconnaissance would be increasingly important, and following successful trials in 1916, it was suggested that fighters should be carried aboard capital ships, on flying-off platforms on top of turrets. In the confines of the North Sea, these aircraft should be able to fly to land at the end of their missions. These turret-top planes were a very limited solution; each plane was a ‘use once’ device. If a continuous patrol was to be maintained above the fleet when it was at sea, there would need to be a minimum of 50-60 aircraft available, meaning every capital ship would need to carry at least two planes.
    Dedicated seaplane carriers were already with the fleet, but at Stavanger, Beatty had found the BCF’s HMS Engadine to be too slow and had therefore left her behind shortly after dawn. At the time, he hadn’t been confident that her planes could have been launched in the swell (a problem Jellicoe’s Campania did not have, as she was equipped with a flying-off ramp).

    If ‘aviation vessels’ were to have a future, they would have to be capable of keeping up with fleet cruising speeds and would have to be able to launch and recover aircraft in a wider range of weather conditions than calm or slight seas. Following the success of Campania, the Admiralty had already taken over a part-completed Italian liner, now rechristened Argus. She was to be fitted with a full-length flying-off deck, which was hoped might also allow wheel or skid-equipped aircraft to land back on board.
    Until it’s Over, Over There
  • Until it’s Over, Over There

    On the 6th April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. President Wilson had narrowly won re-election in 1916 with qualified promises of neutrality, but even before then, increasing numbers of Americans were demanding war. When Germany began a new campaign of unrestricted U-boat warfare in February, their calls became irresistible.
    This was an immense moral and financial boost to the Allies, but its immediate practical effects were comparatively minimal. The USA had only a small army, although when the first regular US infantry and cavalry units arrived in France in June, they were greeted by vast cheering crowds, and had an effect on morale out of all proportion to the size of the force. The US Navy was far better prepared, and an American squadron reached Britain at the end of May, tilting the balance of maritime power even further in favour of the Allies. Six American battleships and a destroyer flotilla joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow.
    At Rosyth, the Battle Cruiser Fleet had been reinforced just a few weeks earlier by the Japanese Kongo and Hiei, under a deal that had been agreed in February. In return for the loan of the ships, the British government agreed to Japanese sovereignty over several ex-German Pacific islands.

    In the words of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, ‘Germany is finished’. He had given up on the idea of winning the war at the end of 1916, ultimately leading to his dismissal. However, the Generals and Admirals were determined to continue, in the belief that stopping now would make the sacrifices of the past two and a half years meaningless.
    Food shortages during the winter of 1916-17 had since pushed parts of the German population to the brink of starvation, even though the ‘Dutch trade’ had helped a little. With the USA now their enemy, the Germans no longer had any overseas suppliers whose merchants were prepared to look the other way, while the British cut off all but the most limited supplies to the Netherlands.
    Despite that, there was still the hope that the war could be won in 1917, through a swift U-boat campaign that would bring Britain to her knees before America could mobilise.

    For the surface fleet, the idea that the British Fleet could be ‘divided and conquered’ had been shown to be highly questionable. Repeated attempts to lure squadrons to their destruction had failed, and the High Seas Fleet had been lucky to escape more severe losses at Stavanger. Aside from guarding the Baltic, the only remaining plan for aggressive action was to stage a breakout by cruisers, raiders and submarine supply ships, which would be covered by the surface fleet. However, even the aggressive Admiral Hipper regarded the idea as suicidal and argued that the fleet was more valuable in deterring the British and in supporting new attacks in the Baltic.

    To the south, Austria-Hungary was exhausted. Although the conquest of Serbia had avenged their murdered Archduke, their armies had suffered catastrophic losses against the Russians in the East, the Italians in the West and the Anglo-French-Serbian forces in the south. By the spring of 1917, their position was that they might be able to defend themselves through the summer, but neither resources nor morale would support any attack.

    In Britain, the early results of the U-boat campaign had been a shock, but with reinforcements from the US Navy the system of convoys was expanded further. American destroyers were deployed to bases in Ireland, and the go-ahead attitude of the first American liaison officers helped to push other schemes forward. Within weeks of their declaration of war, the Americans began a vast construction programme, expanding their yards to mass-produce their own standard ship designs.
    A British programme to speed construction by using standardised designs and prefabricated parts started under a new Controller of Shipping in May, and despite concerns from senior officers in the Fleet, resources were temporarily diverted away from building capital ships and cruisers towards repairing merchantmen and swiftly assembling light patrol craft.

    In January, Admiral Bacon had been joined at Dover by Admiral Keyes, an aggressive officer with friends in both the fleet and government. Keyes’ first task was to improve the Dover Barrage, and his scheme quickly gathered support as the U-boat campaign began. By April, new minefields were being laid and surface patrols had been re-organised.
    Between the start of the war and January 1917, only two U-boats had been sunk in the Straits. In February and March 1917, another two were sunk, while in April, two more were sunk and another two damaged. The Americans soon proved themselves keen to assist, as defeating the U-boats would make the Atlantic safer for their troopships. Six USN destroyers were sent to supplement Keyes’ forces in June, when a combination of surface attacks, mines, depth-charges and newly installed sound detection gear aboard Motor Launches succeeded in sinking four U-boats in and around the Dover Strait.
    The success of this campaign was suspected by the Allies the following month, when only one submarine was sunk near Dover. However, the number of sightings and detections had dropped too, leading Keyes to believe that the Germans had re-routed many of their long-range boats. It was confirmed after the war that on 24th June, departing U-boats had been ordered to use the longer route around the north of Scotland.

    Despite Keyes’ success in the Channel, and rarer successes by convoy escorts or Q-ships out at sea, German submarine construction kept pace with losses through the first six months of the year. Allied shipping losses only fell below 400,000 tons in August, when other actions disrupted the U-boat campaign.
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    State of the Fleets – Capital Ships, May 1917
  • State of the Fleets – Capital Ships, May 1917

    Royal Navy
    Except where noted, ships are as OTL.
    HMAS Australia is a ‘Lion’ class instead of an ‘I-class’
    HMS Panther is a sister to Queen Mary, built instead of the real Tiger.
    Five ‘Royal’ class battleships were built instead of the ‘R’ class. Still 8x15”, but capable of 23-24 knots and with a uniform 12” belt. Royal Oak of this class was sunk at Stavanger.
    HMS Newfoundland is the ex-Chilean Latorre.
    and Glorious – 4x14” Mk.I, 15x4”. Otherwise as OTL.
    Renown and Repulse – ‘super Tigers’. 8x15”, 16x4”, oil-fired, 31+ knots, but only a 6” belt.

    Under Construction:
    Furious – six ‘15” Type B’ (that’s still the official name), 12” inclined belt - but it’s narrow.
    Hood – 8x15”, 31+ knots, wide 9” inclined belt. 850’ x 101’, so a little smaller than the real one.
    Howe – improved Hood with 9-11” belt and more deck armour
    Rodney, Hardy – Fast battleships. 8x16”, 12” inclined belt, 28+ knots (only just laid down).

    War losses to date: Audacious (mine), Indomitable (torpedo), Inflexible (gunfire/fire), Queen Mary (gunfire/explosion), Royal Oak (gunfire & torpedo)


    Renown, Repulse

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    Royal George, Royal William, Royal Sovereign, Canada, Royal Oak (sunk).

    hood 1920b.jpg
    Hood, Howe

    Imperial German Navy
    All ships to date are designed as OTL.
    The Hindenburg has been completed a little early. The British believe she has 14” guns, but she has 12” as OTL.
    Bayern and Baden are fully operational – 8x15”, 9-13½” belt, 22+ knots.

    Under Construction:
    4 ‘Mackensens’ (Mackensen herself has been launched) - 8x13.8”, 8-12” belt, 28 knots.
    3 ‘Ersatz Yorcks’ – 8x15”, 8-12” belt, 27 knots.
    2 further ‘Bayerns’ (Sachsen has been launched, Wurttemburg due for launch May ’17)

    War losses to date: Markgraf (gunfire/explosion), Derfflinger (gunfire/flooding)

    United States Navy
    All 14” ships are designed as OTL. The ‘Tennessee’ class will be delayed due to more urgent war needs.
    The four ‘Maryland’ class have been ordered, to the OTL design. All four have been or are about to be laid down but are likely to be delayed.
    A design for ‘Lexington’ has been submitted, with 10-14”, a 7” belt and capable of 32½ knots. Orders to lay down six ships have been suspended following the declaration of war.
    Design of the six ships of the ‘South Dakota’ class is still ongoing.

    A squadron consisting of USS New York, Wyoming, Arkansas, Utah, Delaware and Florida has been sent to join the Grand Fleet. The ‘South Carolinas’ may follow to fulfil other roles.

    Austro-Hungarian Navy
    Four 'Tegetthoff' class completed. The two survivors and the pre-dreadnought fleet are bottled up at Fiume.
    No further war construction is planned.

    War losses to date: Tegetthoff (gunfire), Viribus Unitis (gunfire/beached)

    Imperial Japanese Navy
    The ‘Settsu’ class and all 14” construction is as OTL.
    Two ‘Nagato’ class ships have been ordered, to the OTL design.

    Plans for a counter to the US 1916 Naval Bill are being prepared.
    Japan has sent a pair of ‘Kongo’ class ships and a destroyer flotilla to Britain.

    Italian Navy
    Dante Aligheiri, ‘Cavour’ and ‘Duilio’ classes completed as OTL.
    Deployed in the Adriatic and at Taranto.

    Four ‘Caracciolo’ class under construction, but only Caracciolo herself prioritised for completion.

    Losses to date: Da Vinci (explosion in harbour)

    French Navy
    ‘Corbet’ and ‘Bretagne’ classes are all in service.
    All other construction halted at the outbreak of war.

    Most of the French Fleet is in the Med supporting operations against Austria. A heavy squadron is at Malta, partly to help guard the Otranto Barrage and partly to dissuade any potential Ottoman adventurism.
    War losses to date consist of pre-dreadnoughts and semi-dreadnoughts of the ‘Danton’ class mined or torpedoed in the Adriatic.

    Changes to Non-belligerent Navies
    Netherlands – Due to complete the Piet Hien (ex-Greek Salamis), 8x14” guns, 10” belt, 23 knots.

    Ottoman Empire – Reshadieh (OTL HMS Erin) and Osman (OTL HMS Agincourt), both delivered in 1914.
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